The "Choice" of College

Like many Latinos, I was a non-traditional college student. I didn’t set foot on a 4 year college campus until I was 23 years old. Up until then, I worked full-time as a shipping and receiving clerk for a small pool equipment company. My post-high school academic career consisted of dropping in and out of almost every school in the L.A. Community College system.

Attempting to work full-time and attend school was a disaster; however, making the decision to stop working didn’t make economic sense. It’s a dilemma that many Latino students face – is the return on investment worth the cost? In other words, is college worth it?

It’s a debate that’s been discussed more in the last few years, especially since our economic troubles. A good debate has been on-going via Economix. John Schmitt aptly writes about it here and here. In discussing why the benefits of college might not be apparent to some, especially men, John writes:

Almost by definition, increasing college completion involves getting students that in the past would not have attended college or who would have attended, but not completed college, to do so. To understand why college completion has not risen as fast as economic models might predict, we need to focus on the students who might, if conditions were slightly different, attend college. These students are wavering between going to a four-year college, attending community college, or entering the labor force immediately. They are on the fence for a variety of reasons. Maybe they did not have the highest grades in high school. Maybe they have work or family responsibilities. Maybe they feel that they cannot afford college.

All of these factors characterized my situation – and probably many Latinos today. I made the difficult decision to stop working and attend school full-time. A combination of Pell Grants and student loans were just enough to get me through my bachelor’s degree – just barely. It was satisfying to obtain my undergraduate degree, but the experience was emotionally and physically exhausting. Obviously, a learning environment that one would not consider optimal!

And while the college ROI issue was a certainly an important one, there was another consideration that was just as important to me. It was the same factor that I considered before starting my Master’s, and ultimately my Doctorate degrees: Opportunity.

The opportunity to work in diverse industries;
The opportunity to experience new places and people;
The opportunity to learn from others and about myself;
The opportunity to work from home (as a stay-at-home father);
The opportunity to spend time and watch my kids grow; and
The opportunity to have choices.

The economic value of a college education can always be debated. The non-economic value – well, I think that’s a bit tougher.