Societal expectations to blame for college dropouts

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It seems like yesterday when, at this time of year, I was 17 and sending applications to various “dream” colleges so I could leave high school as quickly as possible. Yet now that I’ve arrived, I’m seeing more and more of my friends packing their bags and dropping out of college before their junior year has even started so they can explore the world outside the Tacoma bubble.

But why drop an education so quickly? How has something so precious become so underrated in an American society that needs an educated youth?

The problem lies within the misconception of a college education. Our culture and our parents forced us to believe that college must happen immediately after high school, and some students are finding that they’re just not ready.

There are various authors, artists, icons and revolutionaries who have dropped out of college or not attended at all, thus influencing our generation to follow in their iconic footsteps (Jane Austen, Sean Parker, Humphrey Bogart, Stanley Kubrick, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein…the list goes on). And admittedly, those icons found amazing success all by themselves.

Consider the “20 Under 20” fellowship created by Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and an early investor of Facebook. Thiel grants $100,000 to 20 above-and-beyond scholars who drop out of school for two years so they can create their own businesses—most of which are technology-based.

This idea stems from the belief that a higher education has become overvalued. When one plays into the risky business of an entrepreneur instead of facing the four year pile of debt, they are presumably better off. While this is an alluring idea, especially when looking at the history of the most influential people with little to no higher educational background, it still isn’t promising.

If Thiel is doing this in hopes of finding another Steve Jobs, the amount of pressure on those 20 scholars will be uncompromisingly high. Not to mention that every success will be what those scholars make of it, and the fact that Thiel hopes to push for technological innovation creates boundaries for students who want to use that time and funding for something just as spectacular, but not necessarily technology-based.

Another way to look at the foundation is that it gives a greater emphasis to the type creative thinking that brings innovation to the world. But isn’t that what we’re in school for? It seems that the concept of an education has become disenchanted by the hefty amounts of homework and limited freedoms associated with a week-by-week schedule. Students begin to detest the classes they used to love simply because they’ve become dragged down by the workload.

In other words, the excitement to learn in a collegiate atmosphere has, for a growing number, slowly waned.

But that’s not to ignore the other reasons that students are dropping out. Besides unfortunate circumstances such as health or personal issues, there is the financial aspect. As indicated by the Pew Research Center, 48 percent of students who have dropped out say that increasing student loan debt had was a major factor.

When it comes down to it, maybe our culture and our parents are to blame. We are fed and bred throughout high school with the prescribed goal of attending a college, getting a degree, finding a job, experiencing some life, getting married, and then creating that same life for our children. But I would like to believe that the students at the University of Puget Sound have generally risen above the ‘Little Boxes’ system that ensures we will all end up in suburban homes with only sweet, intellectual memories left behind.

If anything, high school students should know that it is okay to take a year or two off before an education. It should be taught from college representatives and especially from parents that attending college immediately after high school is not crucial or mandatory. If not, students may become enthralled with the idea of traveling and working on a farm instead of cramping themselves up in a library for a course for which they were not prepared. With this change in perception, the future of America could look very different indeed.

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