OPINION | The Other Cost of Post-Secondary Education

As the shift to increase time in post-secondary study goes largely unquestioned, the consequences and opportunity cost of remaining in school into one’s’ twenties are rarely considered. Thereafter, we are told it is a good idea to establish and settle into our careers before moving onto other life goals, and so, we further delay the prospect of marriage, and inevitably starting a family. Perhaps this topic is considered old-fashioned for our modern world, but this “one has plenty of time” theory may result in a generation of people with serious regrets. 

Biology’s Promise

Bearing and rearing children for most is an essential part of the human experience. Yes, there will always be exceptions to the rule, but it is fair to say, like most species on Earth, humans have an innate desire to eventually reproduce and care for their young. Youth nowadays, however, do not plan life around their future family, but instead, around education, career, and leisure. While this is okay to do, one must realize such a route leaves little room for error, and may not offer enough time for issues with conception or adequate gaps between pregnancies. Our bodies are inconvenient and do not account for or cater to our ambitions. It is a fact of life that the quality and quantity of viable eggs and sperm degrade with age, a degradation process that starts in your mid-twenties. Let us not forget the energy and attention newborns and toddlers require – and while it is difficult to fathom oneself as old, tired and weak in our thirties – it is also a fact of life that humans and our energy reserves deteriorate with time. 

Why is it not advised then that we prioritize starting a family ahead of a degree that makes no promises? Many might claim children are expensive and infer one ought to go to school to qualify for a high-paying job first. Leaving the crippling debt of student loans aside, it is now painfully obvious that a degree in anthropology, history, or even some of the STEM fields leads to graduates struggling to service their post-secondary debt. As an alternative, it is worth considering a field that does not require several years of expensive, in-class training. Imagine, for instance, a job in programming, real estate, any of the trades, sales, the options are endless. 

Debt-Free Alternatives to ‘Higher’ Education

It is financially very smart to consider industries with low barriers to entry so that you can start earning an income and investing as soon as possible. Those opting to go down this route are likely to be much better off financially than most of their degree holding peers who, begrudgingly, have to apply for jobs that do not match their accolades. For those stuck in this situation, it is not surprising they put off having children until the very end of their fertility windows. And, while it does not seem like much is lost especially if there is no trouble conceiving, one also needs to be cognizant of how much babies restructure life regardless of what you have planned.

Career 🡪 Baby vs. Baby 🡪 Career

As someone who meticulously organized life around frivolous sports, sunny beaches, and a job that pays the bills, the instant change in ambition once I knew I was growing a baby was astonishing. Life, unbeknownst to me, was in reshuffle mode. All the years and resources put towards my education were quickly pushed to the curbside. Many women go through this – babies have this effect – it is a primitive connection that no philosophy or cultural shift can override. This does not mean life has changed permanently or that my out-of-the-home life is doomed. Instead, I choose to view it as the most foundational chapter, a chapter or two dedicated to growing and shaping my family. 

While many women do nowadays “have it all,” the career, a happy marriage, a clean home, and three kids in tow, it is okay to carve a more manageable path. Having children is so incredibly tough. Very little is more demanding than bearing and caring for a baby.  It is, however, as the cliché goes, one of the most rewarding and fulfilling aspects of life and that is why most people do it. The problem is that we are waiting too long. We expect to beat the odds; we don’t anticipate how constant those early years are; and, the financial decisions we typically make in our twenties put us in a position where children are rendered unaffordable. 

Conclusion

Most eventually arrive at a reflection point and ask: were all the delays worth it? For some the answer may still be yes, and that is fine, but it is also okay to opt out and consider the options for growth beyond the classroom. Once women entered the workforce it quickly became part of culture, so much so that now to suggest one still has the option to embrace motherhood full-time raises eyebrows. The point is to keep an open mind that emancipation does not need to come at the expense of the stay-at-home mothers’ honor, a vocation steeped in making and serving the nuclear family: the cornerstone of our society. 

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and do not reflect the views of Conversationally Speaking Magazine.

Sanam Skinner

Sanam Skinner is a full-time mother with a Master's in Political Studies from Queen's University. Her current research interests are in entertaining and potty training a curious toddler, sober strategies for dealing with two under two and, occasionally, pondering over the increasing socio-political intolerance in Canada and the United States.



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