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The Next Generation

Thu, 07/25/2013 - 3:13pm
Walt S. Ciciora

Since you are reading this publication, you are most likely a cable telecommunications technologist. If you are like most of the technologists I have known, you enjoy your career and are enthusiastic about all things technical and scientific. You are eager to learn more and are finding more to learn in this publication. You belong to the SCTE and take advantage of its opportunities to learn.

But are you sharing your enthusiasm with the next generation? Maybe you have children, or grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, or some of each. Have you “infected” them with your germ of curiosity?

Likely, you or their parents are thinking of college for them. There has been a lot written lately about the cost of college and whether it’s worth it. The main conclusion is that it’s complicated. What may have made sense for you and me might not be the right approach now. We can’t assume that what worked for us will work for the next generation. Too much has changed.

The most important point seems to be that purpose and direction in needed to avoid serious mistakes. It seems that almost anyone can get into college these days and almost anyone can get sufficient student loans to pay for it. That should be good news, right? Not necessarily. Student loans can be an almost unrecoverable trap if the education they fund does not result in gainful employment. Too many kids are not carefully choosing their majors and are graduating with little hope of paying back their loans in a reasonable time. With a huge debt burden and a questionable credit score, buying a home, starting a family and much of the goals of the “American Dream” can be out of reach.

Things have changed. It used to be that having a college degree was the important thing and the major was secondary. A degree used to mean you had the discipline and intelligence to make it through college and so were likely to be able to do just about any job. An employer could depend on that and you could count on finding a good job. Shockingly, current college graduates have high unemployment and under employment. Many are forced to accept low paying jobs out of their field of study just to begin paying back the loans.

A couple of decades ago, going to college wasn’t all that expensive if you went to your state’s university and were careful about living expenses. It used to be that if you had a part time job in high school and saved much of what you earned so that you had a head start, you could pay most, if not all, of your tuition and other costs with summer and part time employment while working your way thru college. College tuition and other costs have grown well beyond inflation for a couple of decades. What may have worked two or three decades ago, is no longer possible.

That doesn’t mean the next generation shouldn’t go to college. It just means they need to be very careful about choosing a course of study that is likely to result in a meaningful career, generate the funds to pay back any loans, and allow for moving out of the parents’ basement and starting an independent life.

Two important recent books on this subject are “Is College Worth It?” by William Bennett and David Wilezol and “Worthless” by Aaron Clarey. The statistics presented in these books are positively frightening. Lives are all but ruined by debt in the tens of thousands of dollars and the inability to find suitable employment. It comes down to making poor choices concerning college majors.

A lot of what has been written emphasizes the opportunities for graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM majors. That’s where you come in. As a technologist, you are deep into this. You should take every opportunity to share your enthusiasm for these subjects and stimulate excitement for them in the next generation. The sooner you start, the better.

Think about how you got interested in the STEM subjects and relate your experiences to them. Talk about the technical aspects of your job. Explain how the technology you know works. See if you can arrange a tour of some facilities. Look into whether there are factory tours nearby. Visit museums. Email them links to technology oriented YouTube videos. Buy them subscriptions to Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Scientific American and similar publications. “Make:” is a great magazine of projects (makezine.com). There are fun computer projects based on inexpensive hobby boards available on line and from Radio Shack. See http://www.instructables.com/id/Arduino-Projects/ and http://www.raspberrypi.org/.

Consider getting a 3-D printer and mastering its use. Then introduce the next generation to its wonders.

Share your enthusiasm.

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