by Dr. Boyce Watkins
I’ve taught thousands of students on five college campuses over the last 21 years. I’ve seen the very best, and the very worst. Some of my students have gone on to earn millions on Wall Street, and some of them are dead. College can produce more outcomes than one can possibly imagine, and not all of them are good.
So, to help you and your child get the most out of the college experience, I’ve compiled a short list of a few ways that college students can ruin their lives. So, the goal here is to do the opposite. Many of us, especially black folks, are under the false impression that a person who gets educated or is financially successful is automatically doing quite well for themselves. But the fact is that financial and educational success mean nothing if you a) don’t know who you are, and b) have a spirit that is sour.
So, here are a few ways that college students can ruin their lives.
1) Excessive use of alcohol and/or drugs: During my 12 years at Syracuse University, I wondered if we produced more alcoholics than college graduates. People don’t seem to understand that if you drink till you puke every single weekend, you’re probably going to be an embarrassment to your family after you leave school. Numerous crimes occur while under the influence and I have a very intelligent acquaintance who is serving a 40 year prison sentence for something he did while under the influence of alcohol. Part of the reason that kids fall into this trap is because 38 million Americans drink too much (according to a recent CNN segment featuring Dr. Jennifer Caudle), and parents don’t warn their kids of the dangers. Don’t make the same mistake with your children.
2) Sexual irresponsibility: Making love is amazing, we know that. Also, I’m not here to be anybody’s pastor, since I believe that even the holiest among us love to “get their freak on.” So, without judging, I can say that if your conversation about intimacy with your child simply consists of the words “Don’t do it,” you might be signing their death certificate. STD infections are far higher on college campuses than they are in the general population, largely due to unprotected activity, as well as people sharing partners. Warn your kids of this and don’t let them learn the hard way. I won’t even talk about the reason that there is typically an abortion clinic near every college campus; I’ll let you figure that one out on your own.
3) Burying themselves under a mountain of debt: As a Finance professor, I can tell you that there are two things that most Americans cannot afford to do in this country: Get sick and go to college. Of course, we find a way anyway, but we end up under a ton of debt in the process. If there is a way around the debt by choosing a state university over a private one or forcing your child to take the scholarship that they are refusing to consider, then you should go for it. But I understand that, sometimes, our kids make bad choices early in life and you can’t always stop them. But at least they can’t say that no one warned them beforehand. Student loan debt is now serious and for the first time in history, the average American under the age of 30 is expected to die in debt. You know this is ten times worse for black folks.
4) Choosing a career that they makes them hate life itself: Choosing a career and major requires a balance between determining what you want to do and what you NEED to do. First, I’d make sure that your child is practical in their choice of a major: Are they going to make enough money to pay their bills? Are there jobs in this field? Secondly, I’d avoid choosing a major just for the money. There are a lot of miserable attorneys and engineers out there. Third, I’d push every one of your children to learn how to start their own business. Even highly-educated people are finding themselves in the unemployment line and the operative words for black America in the 21st century are “self-sufficiency.” A person who knows how to hustle and make their own money is always going to be able to survive. This is far better than sitting around waiting for someone to give you an opportunity.
5) Wasting time in things that have nothing to do with college: There is nothing wrong with partying in college. The problems only arise when you don’t study between the parties. Also, while greek letter organizations are productive assets to the African American community, the LAST thing I need to hear is that a student missed my class because he was practicing for a step show. Most of us know that there are some students who take these extracurricular activities entirely too seriously, and somehow become confused enough to allow the pledging process or some other activity to put their GPA in the toilet. Nothing could be dumber and more detrimental to your future. Teach your child to stay focused.
The most important determinants of quality of life come down to making good decisions. But making good decisions requires wisdom, which we must typically borrow from those who love us. Give your children wisdom as they head off into the dog-eat-dog world in which we live, and they will likely find college makes their lives better and not worse. Good luck.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance PhD, Financial contributor to Jet Magazine, and author of the book, “Everything you ever wanted to know about college”. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.