TrustNavigator Blog

For decades there has been a belief that a college diploma was “the ticket”. The college degree in the 20th Century was the completion of the finishing school for the corporate world. For decades it was exclusive for the elite. In the 1960’s that changed with the attraction to many of staying in education to avoid the military draft and the expansion of the college campus to women and veterans thru tuition assistance. Adding government financing gave a broader population access to corporations looking for the next generation of management. Not-for-profits and smaller companies had access to more educated candidates quickly defining the previously exclusive college diploma as the new career ticket. As college populations soared, the “commoditization” of the trophy degree changed the value of the ticket. Today graduates increasingly are unprepared with life skills after the degree while increased debt and tuition costs concern many of the value of returns. Parents are a big part of the change needed to reset expectations.

As the Industrial and Technology Revolutions set the stage for more business formations than ever before, the demand for college graduates grew multifold matching the population growth on campuses. More management training, advanced written and math skills and advanced professional development in careers like healthcare, legal and engineering were critical. This was generally the case until the approach of the 21st century when the “needle swing” started to overpopulate the supply of college graduates. On-line diplomas and government backed financing made access no longer exclusive. It unintentionally compromised outcomes. One of the least discussed issues was the stigma created around degrees. Examples include the challenge of women who despite having degrees are torn between careers or to continue to be the primary caregiver of children or vocational school training viewed inferior to college degrees. This was not universal but there were changing social stigmas associated with certain jobs and roles.

Consider for a moment the liquid engineer. Today actually a commonly needed job in our society. The liquid engineer needs a certification usually only accomplished after an apprenticeship. A college degree is not necessary. After training and experience creates a veteran liquid engineer who five years into this career averages $80-100,000 per year. For those acting as independent consultants and maybe overseeing multiple other engineers potential pay is even higher. To many this may sound very attractive as a career ripe in opportunity. Great compensation and a job always in high demand by customers. Some refer to this job as a plumber. For years this job title has had a stigma with not much respect for this profession. Thus, despite huge demand and growing income opportunities many vocational job titles like this were perceived as not reaching for the American Dream as it was not pursuing the college degree.

Today we are short of many “tradesman” with vocational skills and training in these formerly “under- appreciated” labor roles. The income opportunities, chances for advancement, work life balance and other highly coveted priorities are available today in many vocational and other non-college dependent career paths. Vocational schooling is losing the negative image of the last few decades. Parents previously encouraging their children’s sole pursuit of the college degree is morphing to a new definition of success and happiness not solely dependent on the degree. We have written extensively about vacated parenting . Parental teachings of Life skills from saving, budgeting and debt have succumbed to helicoptering as best friends to our children. There are many variations of these changes with the societal redefinition of disciplining and the over rewarding of trophies without the long-term accomplishment of hard work. The college diploma itself became a trophy for many of reaching achievement without emphasis on the next steps of careers and the contemplation and pursuit of career passions.

Technology has also challenged legacy parenting definitions. Dr. Leonard Sax and Jean Twenge (see video ) identify the cell phone, video games and social media as intuitively dangerous influences that parents are chillingly unaware of the ramifications of lack of supervision and guard rails. These are not the traditional responsibilities of parenting in past generations. New video games romanticizing violence, sexual assault and guns are not commonly addressed by media and our public discussions of the challenges facing parents and their raising of children. The resulting opioid use, teen suicide and even post college debt and inability to live independently are new challenges that may cause future generations to question the two-earner household. The more-time parent is needed to pay attention to the quickly evolving paradigm of raising children and the onslaught of so many changes impacting our youth.

We don’t profess to know of a magical formula for success of parenting. But as a society when we look at the ill preparedness of some of our youth for employment and post education success, the change in parenting is an ingredient that has defined Millennials and Gen Z. We tend to blame others including colleges and our education system in general. But the formative years, now influenced by social media and the traditional media exploitation of violence and extremism is overwhelming (even to many adults). Greater parental involvement in our children’s education and adult erected guard rails for appropriateness during formative years is serious business. The vacating of parts of the role for the last few decades has presented the challenge that if we are concerned as a society with Millennial behavior it results from us parents. The next generation of parents may look at this model and decide for a different adaptation.