The Thinking 

Is College Necessary for Women?

October 3, 2012



A recent comment you made has had me wondering. It was in the post “The Have-It-All Mentality”:

“Part of the importance of college today is also that it is a place for young people to meet, and parents know that. Therefore they have to spend big bucks for their daughters to attend college and their daughters must make big bucks to send their own daughters to college someday.”

I know this was the case for me. I graduated from college five years ago. Had it not been for the (extracurricular) experiences I had there, the people I met, and the ideas I was exposed to (all of which were discovered on my own and completely unconnected with my courses or any actual effort of the university, but which were irrefutably tied up with the college “environment”), I should be a very different person now.  And I did, in fact, meet my husband there as well.  For these reasons – even despite the horrible debt it left me with – I will never say that I regret going.  But is this really what college should be?  The bachelors’ degree and teaching certificate which I was “officially” there for only got used for a short time before I left the working world and got married.  And I knew all along that should I end up getting married, that’s what I wanted to do.

Was it worth all the thousands of dollars (which we are still paying off, plus interest of course) for that?  Could I have achieved similar formative and social experiences in some medium besides college?

I’ve been questioning the best course of action for a young college-aged lady who knows that she’d like to be a housewife ultimately, but has to face the realities of where she is at that point (her current singlehood, the need to earn a living, criticism of family and friends.) I have a very young daughter, and hope to develop some more concrete opinion on this topic, so I can help to lead her in the right direction as she approaches college age. Should I support a desire to attend a regular four-year college? Encourage her to start at a community college in order to save money yet still get some higher education? Allow her to stay home into adulthood to continue learning homemaking skills and help care for the family (such as the young woman in the Aspiring Homemaker blog you recently linked to)? But I wonder: in this day and age, with college degrees becoming more and more necessary to get certain jobs, is it really wise to advise our unmarried daughters not to go to college at all?

I have several friends (all college-educated females themselves) who definitely believe its best for wives and mothers to stay home with their families, and yet still feel strongly that girls should have a college degree as a “backup plan” (I suppose in case she never marries, or finds herself widowed). I know a few very intelligent women who dropped out of college because they had found their future husbands and realized that it no longer made sense to be there. Another friend attended a small local school because her parents would not allow her to attend any college that would put her into so much debt that it would force her to work after marriage just to pay it all off.

Do you have any thoughts on this question?

Laura writes:

There is much to say about the deterioration in the standards of learning for women that has come with their supposed liberation, but I’m not going to focus on that issue in this post. To address your question, here is my view in brief. Given the wealth of opportunities for independent learning, travel, interesting volunteer work, and low-level jobs, a woman does not need to go to college at 18 to have a satisfying and busy life before marriage. She can always go to college later if she wishes, and even earn a degree online if she wants one quickly.

A young woman who has finished her secondary education should have leisure and independence  to develop her own interests, inclinations and initiative. She absolutely should not be a servant to her parents, though she should contribute to household work if she lives with them.

I think you should prepare your daughter for the likelihood of not going to college. If later you find a school that is affordable without any necessity for debt and that seems to offer genuine learning without being a sexual free-for-all, or she has some very strong interest or talent that can only be developed in an institution, or for some reason it is unlikely that she will marry, you can change plans. However, if she has the expectation of college, then it is very hard to let her down later if you decide it is not best. Assume that she won’t go and take it from there. You and your husband should offer her the best you can in the way of disciplined learning before then.

If you homeschool your daughter, you may find that by 18 she has learned as much as graduates of top liberal arts colleges. And she may be ready for a few years of no schooling at all. Obviously, much depends on what kind of person she is and what her inclinations are.

Things are going to change dramatically as more and more families pursue alternatives, especially for their daughters. You will not be alone.

Western culture has a long and exalted tradition of educating women that predates the era of mandatory college. College is not necessary to make a woman cultured and wise. Here are some comments from a recent graduate of an Ivy League school on just how bad things are at the top universities.

If I could do it all over again, I would travel, read independently and work minor jobs during the years I went to college. Education should form the whole person, not just the brain. A woman is taught to disdain her deepest inclinations in college today and she cannot learn well, except as a whole.

—– Comments —–

Kathlene M. writes:

This topic is extremely interesting to me since I have a 5-year-old daughter. One of my daughter’s great-aunts is still alive and has told us of how she went to an overseas Finishing School as a young woman. This great-aunt ended up doing secretarial work overseas for various consulates before marriage. Once she married her husband (a pilot), she became a dutiful wife and mother whose main function seemed to be entertaining and keeping her household in pristine condition. This great-aunt is amazing, with stories of her travels and many friends she’s met throughout the years. She is well-versed in the art of social graces — a true lady. So if Finishing School was the place where young upper middle class women were sent to become ladies, today’s women seem to be sent to college to become highly educated slut-soldiers in the feminocracy, if you pardon my use of a crass word.

My daughter is a very independent, observant, and strong-willed girl who already is resisting the homework overload in Kindergarten. (Yes, schools actually have homework in kindergarten these days. It truly takes the joy out of learning. So I try to keep the homework to the allotted 15 minutes and not go overboard as some of the mothers do. One mother complained/bragged that her kindergarten daughter did an hour of homework each night. This is a recipe for burnout.) My daughter has told me on a few occasions that she wants to get married and be a mother, and that she doesn’t want a career except to have a job working with animals if she’s forced to choose something. If possible I would like to send my daughter to a conservative religious college that would act as a finishing school to develop her mind and skills, and to have her meet other like-minded women and marriageable men.

Laura writes:

Interesting. Bear in mind that there are very few, if any, conservative colleges that are conservative in the sense that women are taught to be cultured and dignified in the way your aunt was. I  know of a very small Catholic school that is more traditional, but it places enormous intellectual demands on its students and I don’t believe there is any emphasis on social graces. A woman shouldn’t be burnt out by the time she finishes school.

Natalie writes:

I’ve seen homeschooling, classical schools (probably roughly equivalent to parochial schools), and the inside of college humanities course. If you plan to give your daughter the kind of education that doesn’t require an extra four years of liberal arts then I want to emphasis that you must plan to do this. I was homeschooled for twelve years and received a rather good education, but I also reached college without having heard of Beowulf or having read almost any Romantic literature or even much American literature (that I recall). I did read Shakespeare, but it started with rather dumbed versions in my reader and me subsequently hunting out the real thing at our local library. I’d probably knew something of social contract theory, but I’d read very little of what it actually said. In short, I was naive.

If you want to give your daughter a true liberal arts education (liberal arts: that knowledge which was historically deemed necessary to make free and educated man) I’d encourage you to look up catalogs of good liberal arts institutions, examine classically based textbooks, and as much as possible base her education on real literature and not the reading exercises you find in so many text books nowadays. When I briefly taught at a classical school I saw kindergarteners interpret “classical” music (through art and movement) and 8th graders who actually appeared to get something out of reading Bunyan and Swift. Give her access to music, languages, good books, and art (drawing, photography, and sculpture). At least part of the time throw out the grade book and just try to enjoy these things together. At school, after the yearbook had been put together, I did an “enrichment” activity with the class that consisted of me simply reading Shakespeare aloud and glossing as I went. I explained enough of the themes so that they could follow along, but my only goal was to give them an unhurried chance to enjoy my favorite Shakespeare play because I didn’t want Shakespeare to remain a purely academic exercise to these students. You don’t just want someone who understands the basics of “tabula rasa.” You want this stuff to sink down into her bones so that it becomes part of her and her heritage. Have her enjoy the fruits of Western Civilization, and she’ll work to preserve them. What you don’t want is someone who had it shoved down her throat in such a manner that sparkly vampires seem attractive by comparison. And I’m not saying that’s what you would do. I just believe this sort of education should not only be rigorous but based in a deep respect and admiration for what is being taught.

And don’t skip the Old English poets :) Our great tradition got started mighty early.

Laura writes:

Great points.

“Have her enjoy the fruits of Western Civilization, and she’ll work to preserve them.”

Housewives are especially necessary in Western culture. Our great works need to be cherished, not just taught. They are passed on not just by universities but by mothers who love them.

Karen writes:

This is a topic my husband and I have discussed many times. I agree on some points that a woman doesn’t need college to be educated. In truth, men do not become educated these days in college either. The system is broken and has become merely a place to receive a certificate that says you are qualified to work. It’s a way to sift out the numerous job applications employers receive. Unfortunately it works the same for women – college has become a way to sift out prospective wives. Men who are educated want to marry a woman who is equal to him in that sense, even if he wants a housewife. I feel like you have not addressed this problem – where should my daughters go to find husbands in this world if not college. Church, I’m sorry to say, is not the answer here in the south. The only Catholic options are giant modernist monstrosities that offer about as much real community as a public high school, not to mention their feminized liturgies and social groups are a huge turnoff to most young males.

Laura writes:

I know. This is a challenge. But, remember, many women don’t meet prospective husbands in college either and they often end up, due to a job, someplace where they barely know anyone. Also, while many men want a woman with a college degree, how many want a woman with college debts that will take years to pay off?

There are summer programs and jobs in which college-age men and women are brought together. There are community theaters and organizations that look for volunteers. Still, I recognize that it’s difficult. There is no easy choice here.

Patrick E. writes:

The education establishment has been transformed greatly in order to conform to the students that now come there. The reason that most students pass through these institutions without going through any intellectual growth is that these are the same students who cheat on tests, do not do any of the assigned readings, go to class maybe 70 percent of the time, spend the time they are in class on their laptop/iphones, and spend every bit of their free time on “extracurricular” activities (which usually means guzzling alcohol to maintain social reputation). These are the students (the clear majority) who transform the university rather than being transformed by it. Having 80 percent of a given classroom filled with this type of student leads to apathy and depression on the part of students who are there for the right reasons.

I realized very early on that I had no chance of surviving if I had to live amongst them in the on-campus housing. Commuting everyday for classes alone was enough to convince me that it is not an experience I would especially want to go through again. I got a degree, fine. It in some ways exposed me to intellectual matters I would pursue on my own. But in the end, I felt more corrupted by my peers than enlightened by my studies. I guess it can be a chance to meet new people, but I found myself wondering where the quality women were. I’m sure they are there but doing infinitely more rewarding things away from the crowd. All the young girls I met seemed to have imbibed the liberal dogma and taken it seriously (like being outraged and calling you a bigot if you don’t support gay marriage).

To borrow a quote from Will Durant: “Democracy has canceled the exceptional man, made thinking illegal, dragged down the best to the level of the most, and substituted, for the standards of the mature, the art and drama and music of the mob.”

Laura writes:

“[I] felt more corrupted by my peers than enlightened by my studies.”

That sums it up nicely. College once exposed the young to the best. Now it exposes them to the worst.

Jesse Powell writes:

My main thought on this matter is that it’s important to keep in mind that society is changing rather rapidly at this point; in some ways for the better and in some ways for the worse. For those with young daughters the “moment of decision” is 15 to 20 years from now. A lot can happen in 15 to 20 years. I think in this period of time the Christian counter-culture will be significantly greater and more widespread. At the same time within college itself I would expect a growing popularity of on-campus Christian groups. I am already seeing an increase of on-campus Christian activity at the colleges near me. I think the next 15 to 20 years will be a time of growing depravity within the “mainstream culture” while at the same time there being a positive Christian based counter-culture. This Christian counter-culture will be more present both within college and outside of college as well.

So, it’s hard to intelligently make plans for what one should do regarding college 15 to 20 years into the future. I would suggest aiming for the ideal of how one’s children should be brought up morally and practically, home schooling being a good way to create a positive foundation for the future, and then leaving concrete decisions regarding the issue of college to the future closer to the time when the actual decisions have to be made. If each individual makes an effort to create the best environment for one’s children this will naturally lead to the growth of a positive community that both your family and other like-minded families will benefit from. This in turn will allow for the best environment to be available 15 to 20 years from now when the issue of college has to be decided on.

Laura writes:

I agree that in 15 years many more intelligent women from decent families will be opting out of college.

Mary M. writes:

I enjoy your website and thank you very much for all you do in maintaining it.

In answer to the post about college being necessary for women I hate to say it but I would answer yes. I wish we didn’t live in a world where a college diploma was the certificate of employability but that is where we are now.

I, much to my sorrow, have remained unmarried. As the ‘spinster aunt’ I am very involved with my family and helping to raise my nieces and nephews. However, I also have to support myself and am very glad that I have that college degree to help ensure I can stay employed. I would have much prefered to have married and been a stay at home wife and mother, however that wasn’t to be.

My sister was widowed when her husband died in an auto accident. Leaving her to raise two small boys alone. It has not been ideal for her to go back to work, but having a college degree ensured she could find a job which maintained her boys life as much as possible (no need to leave Catholic school or move out of the family home).

I attended a local small Catholic college which my mother had attended 40 years before me. I commuted as my mother had because I wanted to stay home and help with my aging parents. The changes that had occurred in the school environment in the intervening years shocked my mother. I am sure she thought she was sending me into a warm, caring environment of Catholic education, but in reality it was a cold almost anti-Catholic place where the few nuns who were there were militant feminists.

I do think that commuting was a great way to save money and perhaps my soul. Living on a college campus today is living in a sewer of debauchery and should be avoided if possible. However, getting the actual degree seems (unfortunately) to be a requirement.

Thanks again for all you do.

Laura writes:

Thank you for writing.

Mary M. makes very good points, but she has not convinced me that a college degree is a necessity. There are many good reasons for getting one, and there is a long, flexible period in which a woman can obtain a degree, but many women could still get by without one. Life insurance policies can give a woman some flexibility so that in event of a husband’s death she has time to get a degree.

Bruce B. writes:

A few months ago, I wanted to write to you about this topic based on a post where readers were discussing where to send their daughters for college. My daughter is only seven but my initial reaction was that I don’t want her to go to college at all. I’m not against women being learned, but the contemporary college environment, from the traditionalist point of view, is toxic at all public universities and most Christian universities as well. I would be willing to rethink this attitude only if we could find an exceptional Christian school that I genuinely trusted. Ideally, she should be able to meet her husband at Church.

I want my daughter to marry a traditional Christian man who takes care of her. If she doesn’t marry and has financial need, then it’s my job to take care of her until I die and when I die I would leave her all of my money and property and expect her brothers to look after her. I don’t worry about my boys having to fend for themselves. I believe fathers owe their daughters an extra degree of care and protection.

Laura writes:

This sort of protectiveness of women, especially those who are widows or unmarried, is an unwritten law of Christian civilization.

V. writes:

I was struck by your remark that homeschooled daughters, by the time they are 18, might know as much as graduates from top liberal arts colleges.

I am in an unique position to appreciate this truth. I teach full-time at the college level and have a five-year-old daughter. Our girl recently started a classical Christian homeschool program. She is learning Latin and German among other things.

My students, on the other hand, have so little reading comprehension in their native English as to be functionally illiterate.

At five, my daughter already knows more than many of them.

I can’t imagine how wide the gap will be at 18.

Natalie writes:

In terms of backup plans, the best back-up plan for a husband’s death or desertion involves life insurance and being a member in good standing of a congregation that practices care for widows and orphans. When I was in grade school I remember a homeschooling father died suddenly a heart attack while in his 40’s, but his widow was able to keep homeschooling their two sons because her church stepped in to make sure she could stay home and mother her sons. I lost track of them after a few years and don’t know how the story ended, but that’s at least how her church began with her.

Laura writes:

Another option for women who are thrown on their own resources is working as a nanny or home care attendant for the old. These do not require college degrees. In my area, nannies make a decent living.

Terry Morris writes:

Laura, this is a great quote:

“Education should form the whole person, not just the brain.”

and I intend to file it with my growing collection of great quotes, right here (pointing at MY brain).

It reminds me of Noah Webster’s 1828 definition of the term Education:

“All that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, form the manners and habits of youth, and to fit them for usefulness in their future stations.”

Webster added, ” A good education in arts and sciences is important, but a religious education is indispensible…”

Sounds like a whole education to me.

Laura writes:

Thank you.

However, I would quibble a bit with the last line from Webster. It implies that somehow one can receive a good religious education absent the arts and sciences. A person cannot be religiously educated if the rest of him is neglected. And he cannot receive a good education in the arts and sciences if his soul and supernatural reality are ignored. I have been to homeschool book fairs where it was apparent that some parents viewed their children as mostly receptacles for religious beliefs. The books were shockingly dull and unimaginative. That’s a form of miseducation. Rudolf Allers, the twentieth century psychologist, wrote in his book Practical Psychology in Character Development:

[M]an exists in four different realms:

As a physical organism he forms part of the realm of organic and inorganic nature.

As a human being he belongs to the realm of persons, to the community — family, social class, nation, and so on.

As an intelligent being he has his part in the realm of mind (ideas, ideals).

As an immortal soul he belongs to the spiritual realm.

He belongs to these various realms not as a divided, but as a complete being. [emphasis added]

A female reader writes:

My fifteen year-old homeschooled daughter and her minor age brothers have been approached with a $150,000 contract for a ten-month, one-hour-per-day, seven-days-a-week-booking with a nationally known family entertainment venue close to our home. (We are not well off, by the world’s standards.) Her brothers are very excited about the possibility, but she realizes the risks to her affections and goals (which include developing more skills to be a young wife and mother content to be at home), and, sad because she realizes she might be letting them down, has tearfully, but firmly said she will not accept this offer. She has also decided against college for the same reasons, knowing she is free to acquire any knowledge that may be learned at college in alternate, more home-and-family-friendly ways.

Mr. Morris writes:

Laura wrote that the textbooks you’ve seen at homeschool book fairs are “shockingly dull and unimaginative.”

That is because progressive, 3-R (Reading, wRiting, arithmetic), part-to-whole, workbook education is shockingly dull and unimaginative. It is also the reason that homeschool mothers at these events often brag that their children are able to complete several

days of school work in one, seemingly oblivious to the idea that the work simply isn’t challenging enough to the child. They’d rather wed themselves to the unthinking, self-esteem building notion that this is a result of a combination between their child being “gifted” on the

one hand, and their methodology being superior on the other.

But I can guarantee you that a system of education developed around 4-R (Research, Reason, Relate, Record), whole-to-part Notebook methodology will barely see the light of day at your average homeschool book fair, precisely because it is challenging and requires

imagination, both from the teacher and her student(s). This is one reason I firmly believe that fathers should take on a more active role in their childrens’ formal education. Homeschool fathers in particular – because the implication that “our child is gifted, and our curriculum superior” is usually not the correct answer, as I indicated above. At least not in my experience.

Indeed, the “gifted child” idea manifests itself in other ways as well.

As to your quibble concerning Webster’s quote, yes, one could take it that way. On the other hand, I could form an entire “Christian” doctrine around a single passage of scripture out of context of the whole Bible, if you catch my drift.

Mr. Morris writes:

Kathlene M. mentions that her five-year-old daughter is resisting doing her homework assignments. The likely reason for this is not that she is extraordinarily stong-willed and independent, but that she is not ready for formal schooling yet.

One of the best pieces of educational advice I ever got, in my opinion, pertained to my oldest daughter who, at the time, we were enrolling in a satellite homeschooling program with Christian Heritage Academy in Del City, OK. The teacher/administrator who conducted the pre-enrollment interview with our daughter later advised us to “just let her play another year, she’s not ready for school yet.” So that is what we did. The next year she was deemed “ready” by the same administrator.

But, of course, in today’s world, such is almost unthinkable. I won’t get into the reasons for this, since you already know what they are.

Share:Email this to someoneShare on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest0Share on Google+0