I convinced this graduating senior to give up his plans to attend college at Iowa State University to study environmental science. Instead, he is now taking a job working at Aquascape. If Cole was your son would you be disappointed? Before you answer, and maybe tar and feather me in the process, let me give you some background information to consider...
Two summers ago, Cole began working at Aquascape pulling weeds and cleaning fish tanks. He loved every minute of it! Last year he was promoted to Retail Associate and began helping customers answer their pond related questions by leveraging the knowledge he had gained as a kid building and maintaining his own water garden. Again, he loved it! As a reward for his good work with Aquascape (and knowing he'd totally dig it), last month I offered to take him to Orlando to the Chelonian Research Institute to help build a turtle pond for world famous turtle expert Dr. Peter Pritchard. I called his Dad first though to make sure he was cool with his son missing two days of school. His pop didn't hesitate in giving me his enthusiastic permission to take his son with me! It was on that fateful trip that Cole mentioned to me his dream career would be working at Aquascape.
That statement set in motion a back and forth dialog between him, his parents and myself that ultimately resulted in him choosing to forgo college in order to leap right into a still forming career opportunity with Aquascape!
My question for you is this ... If Cole was your son would you disagree or be disappointed in his decision to choose a career path at Aquascape vs. pursuing a higher level degree from a University?
I believe the majority of parents would be at least a little let down having had, like me, the perceived value of a higher education ingrained into them.
But I also believe happiness is THE MOST important pursuit any parent could wish for their children. Agreed? Cole and his parents weighed the opportunity at Aquascape against the one with college and evaluated various factors, which unfortunately includes the staggering cost of a four-year degree, and they ultimately chose Aquascape.
My pitch to Cole and his parents was simple ... GIVE IT A YEAR!
If after one year either or both of us feel it isn't working out as hoped, for whatever reason, attending college or pursuing something else could then be explored with Cole now that much wiser.
The moral of this story is simple. Very few young adults truly know for certain what they want to do with their lives. Attending college hoping to figure it out along the way may have been a viable option before but times they are a changing. The doors that a four-year degree historically opened for graduates aren't as readily available as they once were. The monetary value of the incremental earning potential a degree "affords" should be weighed against the ever escalating costs and increasingly diminishing returns earning a College now represents for more and more debt-ridden graduates.
The scary reality is that three-quarters of surveyed graduating seniors from our universities today respond that they feel unprepared to enter the job market. It's possible though that's just a maturation process until you add in that half of human resource managers believe today's college grads lack the critical thinking skills that will allow them to successfully contribute to their companies. These trends are reflected in seismic shifts occurring in the long-standing hiring practices of major corporations. Both Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers, two of the world's largest accounting and consulting firms, have recently removed a bachelor's degree as a requirement for applicants to apply with their companies. Google has followed suit. By no means does this mean earning a four-year degree is dead, but it does signal a major shift reflective of a changing society that every student and parent of a potential College student would be wise to comprehend.
College today, is most certainly not the college we grew up believing in and attending. That's a fact that has lifelong implications for all of us.
Cole is a fine young man who, like almost every young adult, is still figuring things out. I felt a responsibility to help him do that considering I sold him and his parents on the opportunities of pursuing a career at Aquascape vs. jumping right into pursuing a college degree. Cole is far from alone. I'm glad he's chosen to pursue an alternative option that I'm personally highly motivated to make available to more kids just like him.
Wish him luck. In fact, wish us both luck!