Is College Worth it

All through my childhood and adolescence it was drummed into my sister and I the importance of getting a good education. It was imperative if we wanted to have a good job, a good career, for success, for money, for happiness. We both went to Irish Catholic Grammar Schools, I to a Christian Brothers’ School and my sister through a Convent run school. Whilst the angst of growing up and being the eldest child affected my time at school (my late mother would often lampoon me by saying things like ” oh he doesn’t care about coming first, as long as he gets over the finish line he is happy.”)

And with the benefit of hindsight she was probably spot on in her assertion, I wasn’t particularly competitive in the world of academia at that time, but, still, as you can imagine it was hardly the most motivating statement in the world! There is a saying here in Ireland called “brains to burn” and it seems at that time I was doing exactly that! I would rather read a Stephen King novel than try and work out the meanderings of Pythagoras and his rather dry theories. As far as maths went only pie I was concerned about was the homemade steak and onion pie I could smell wafting up stairs to my bedroom!

Nevertheless, whilst I was a student at a grammar school (which was 20 miles from my home town) all my mates were pupils at the local High school. One mate in particular at that time, a guy called Marty who I grown up with, quite simply held no stock with school, he wanted to get out of it as soon as he hit 16 years old. Whilst I was struggling with two schoolbags full of the heaviest damn books known to man (in my humble opinion anyway!) he simply had a pen and jotter, which he rolled up and tucked away in the inside pocket of his school blazer. Academic education was not for him, he was leaving school and getting out to earn some money.

I suppose at this stage you are wondering where exactly my meanderings are leading and what the hell it has to do with the subject matter, but please perserver for a little longer. I’m starting to get warmed up to it now!

Well, anyway Marty did just what he said he would do and on his 16th birthday he walked out of the school gates and began a three year apprenticeship with a local joiner (carpenter) whilst I just about completed and passed my ‘O’ Levels and returned to school that September for two more years to study for my ‘A’ Levels. Two summers later and I am heading off to university in England to study a Law degree, Marty has served two thirds of his apprenticeship, earning pretty decent money, certainly 100% more than I was earning at that time.

By the time I left university with my LLB with honours (2:2) three years further down the track I was a few thousand pounds sterling in debt with the bank and student loans company, my less academically inclined friend, from whom I had drifted away from during our time apart, was now two years out of his apprenticeship. He was time-served joiner. Not only that, but Marty was gaining a reputation for himself as a highly skilled and very talented craftsman. In fact at 21 years of age he was in the process of procuring a loan from the bank to set up his own business. He had already secured a mortgage and had purchased his own home. He was driving a smart Volkswagen Golf, went to Spain for his holidays, whilst I was working on a production line in the local hosiery factory, pulling panty-hose onto a machine and examining them for flaws, sweating for a pittance to try and repay the debt I had run up! That in itself is another story!

Today, as we both approach 36 years of age I see very little of my friend Marty, he owns his own business, has a team of 15 men working for him, with more work than he can cope with. He holidays in the US, Europe, has become an accomplished scuba diver and skier. Me? Well I work for the Civil Service now, salary isnt great, perks are ok, flexible working time, a Rolls-Royce of a pension scheme and besides I was never a great one with my hands anyway.

So I went to college and sneered at “stupid airhead Marty.” Whose laughing now? If I had my time again, I would follow Marty’s route and get myself a trade. That is where the real money is. The education system has become too easy and too many kids are moving through that way. And that in itself is the irony. Marty told me recently that he cannot even get an apprentice to work with him, nor can the plumbers and electricians who work on projects with him. The reason? All kids are going to college!