Is College Education for Naught When You Just Stay Home?

[ 54 ] Comments

by Emily

emilyA while ago I was talking to a BYU student in our neighborhood about college. She liked it; she was busy and stressed out; she found it strange coming home for holidays and having to report her schedule to her parents. I asked her what her major was. She said she wanted to be a pharmacist, but the chemistry was killing her. This was a bright young lady. I had no doubt she could be a pharmacist.
But I wondered, doesn’t she want to get married and have a family?  She, too, has grown up believing that “the family is ordained of God … marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan” and that “God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. . . .  By divine design, . . . mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” I contemplated. Wouldn’t it make it kind of hard to be a mother and a pharmacist someday? Why go through all the effort of pharmacy school? Why go to college for that matter, if you’re just going to end up at home?

Obviously there is inherent goodness in education. From a scriptural standpoint, in Doctrine and Covenants sections 88 and 109, we are encouraged to seek out of the “best books words of wisdom” and to “seek learning even by study and . . . by faith.” We know that whatever intelligence we gain in this life will be an advantage to us in the next (D&C 130: 18-19). We also know that “the glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36). Education also makes me a better, well-rounded, enlightened person with a better capacity to serve my family and community. It gives me more to think and talk about, more than pop culture or gossip. It helps me feel balanced.

Practically speaking, as a stay-at-home mom, if something happens to my husband, I need a backup plan (maybe it’s a new husband, maybe it’s a job), and college gives me a foundation for that. I also have a hunch that someday I’m going to be learning chemistry and physics and calculus and all sorts of other hard things anyway, so I may as well get a head start on them in this life.

I majored in health education and minored in history and international development: fairly practical topics. If I think back to my college classes, for nearly all of them, I can recognize at least one way each class helps me now. For instance, I use the relaxation techniques I learned in my stress management class; I pull out my first aid books when I need to help with a problem I can’t remember how to fix; I’m glad feminist-me paid at least a little attention in my child development class, and should have listened more; and my social hygiene/human sexuality class sure became beneficial once I got close to marriage. I now recognize classes I wish I would have taken, such as cooking, horticulture, economics, and even sewing!

But what about women like my sister-in-law, who is nearly finished with a PhD in chemistry while trying to raise her young family with my brother? Is her maybe-not-so-practical education helping her as a mom or is it a waste? She recently commented that maybe the content she’s studying isn’t so relevant to motherhood, yet the skills she’s learning have stretched her more than she could imagine, and will be very beneficial someday. Although she honestly shares that having two full-time working parents isn’t ideal for their little boys, her involvement in education does keep her happy. Most importantly, she feels she has been driven by the Spirit to be where she is.

So is it pointless to spend all that time and money to go to college if you’re just going to end up at home? No! There will always be something you can take away from it whether it be personal development or skills that transfer over to motherhood. Surely we would all benefit if we look at education not just as a means to get a job, but as a part of the process of becoming an enlightened individual.

Expanding the discussion:

  • How do you use your college education as a stay-at-home mom now?
  • What other ways do you obtain education now that you’re beyond your prime formal schooling years?
  • If you were to go back to school, would you study the same topics you did the first time?
  • Is college worth the expense when you just stay home?

Image credit: BYU

About Emily

I'm a busy mom of 4 living in Utah and have been married for 14 years. I went to Ricks & BYU and have a BS in Health Science and minors in History and International Development. I did my student teaching in Western Samoa. If I ever have time, I enjoy blogging and sewing (especially re-enactment sewing), but usually I'm just trying to make time to exercise and clean the house. I hope to someday remodel and get more into historical research.

54 Responses to Is College Education for Naught When You Just Stay Home?

  1. Whitney B. says:

    I completed my degree 4 months after marrying my husband. We decided that he would then begin his degree while I worked full time all while trying to start a family. We’ve been married now 3 years. We have not been blessed with children yet. We have however been blessed with the ability to have the required doctors appointments to help our infertility, for that I am grateful for my degree. I have had somewhere to go daily to feel fulfilled and like I am happily contributing to society, whereas I may not have felt that way had I stayed home in an empty house. I am grateful to have put my education first, because it has been me a soft place to land in our recent troubling times.

    • Emily says:

      Like. Isn’t it great when things work out for the best because you followed your inspiration? I’m so glad you’ve found contentness (is that a word?). Best wishes regarding fertility. It’s hard not knowing. I do know.

  2. Katie says:

    D&C 130:18-19
    “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.
    And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.”

  3. Michael Towns says:

    I would submit that there are alternative ways of gaining intelligence without having to spend 4 years at a brick-at-mortar school in order to gain a credential.

    • Emily says:

      Ab-so-lutely! I like that college helps you know the things you don’t know and kind of puts you in a box where you can focus, but I think the older I get and the longer I’m away from college, I more appreciate the other forms of education & life long learning (trade schools, community education…). I’m sickened by the $ of college and feel terrible that there’s this educational hierarchy that makes people feel like the have to go to college.

  4. Bonnie says:

    I think it’s important to tease apart education and job training. Universities have long tried to do both, but they are only one route, and for many, they are an increasingly burdensome route to either. Whatever our choice, we will usually be led to it through the spirit.

    One thing that has crept into our culture that I find truly undermining is the idea that the care of our next generation is not worth our greatest educational efforts, as if it could be accomplished just as well by children or the unenlightened. The sheer number of menial tasks is a divider for the proud, because teaching children while caring for them is the hallmark of a wise and centered individual, and not to be embarked upon without a bit of wit.

    Is job training a good investment? It will vary from individual to individual and depend on the type of training. A bigger question is whether our lives should never suffer from hiccups, difficulties, or refocus. We are bound and determined to prepare ourselves right out of a mortal experience. Listening to the spirit won’t insure that nothing bad ever happens; it will insure that we derive eternal wisdom from the experience.

    And the last question could be shortened to “Is college worth the expense?” and that’s a whole different discussion altogether.

  5. Lisa S says:

    You struck a nerve with me on this post. Of course she should pursue her dream of becoming a pharmacist. I’m presuming she is in her early 20’s…what if she doesn’t get married til she is in her 30’s? I served a mission at 26, finished college at 33, got married at 34 and had my first baby at 35. Up until serving a mission I was just kind of waiting around….a waste of time.
    I think these recent words of Elder Uchtdorf are appropriate for this girl you mention.

    “We shouldn’t wait to be happy until we reach some future point, only to discover that happiness was already available—all the time! Life is not meant to be appreciated only in retrospect. “This is the day which the Lord hath made … ,” the Psalmist wrote. “Rejoice and be glad in it.” – Deter F. Uchtdorf

    • Emily says:

      I agree. I think she should go for it. You can’t sit around waiting to get married and there’s huge value in any education. I think where I have the hard time is once she gets the education and does all the work, won’t she just be sad to give it up if marriage and kids come along? It’s probably just my own hangup, though. I get really self-sacrificing and deny myself of things I like and figure others do, too. I’d probably drop the pharmacy stuff and just go be a mom (if I could financially). However, other women seem to find a balance where they make at least some employment work and keep that fulfillment.

      I guess I also have a hard time with women being so focused on the education that they devalue marriage/family (which is why I wondered about this girl). When we devalue that, we obviously don’t understand core doctrine. With that, I speak from experience. When I went to college, I thought girls who dropped out to get married were just ninnies. It wasn’t until years later that I realized I was the one who was mistaken. They had the better attitude and understanding of Heavenly Father’s plan, and I just made fun of them. I felt boys were the deterrent to my education, when I should have been more open to the bigger picture of marriage.

      Obviously, though, everyone’s personal plan is different and that’s where we need to stop judging. Some people should drop out to get married, some should stay in and get married, some may never need any sort of degree/training, others surely will…. We each have our own course.

      • Scholarastastic says:

        Emily, I realize you are speaking from your own experience, but have you really observed that single women in the Church (and I emphasize in the Church) are devaluing marrige and family in favor of education or career? I mean, it’s notoriously problematic to draw conclusions on anyone’s desires or motivations unless you really know them, but I find it hard to believe that even a minority of single LDS women don’t desire the companionship of marriage and family life above other pursuits.

        Frankly, I’ve had the complete opposite experience talking with my female peers. I spent about 8 years in a sizable university YSA unit in the Midwest that also included several women who would describe themselves as quite left-leaning, liberal and feminist and I don’t think even a single one of them did not have a fervent desire to marry and have a family. Some of them have been blessed with the fulfillment of that desire and some haven’t. Why can’t we just assume that a person is doing his or her best to live the gospel and leave these sorts of highly personal decisions up to them and the Lord?

        As for myself, I’m about to turn 32 and by the grace of God, managed to find and marry my husband 3 months ago after many, many years of wishing, hoping, praying and pleading to the Lord to find someone. If anyone–no matter how well-meaning–had dared suggest that I was valuing my education during those years over the opportunity to get married when no options for marriage were presenting themselves, well. I wouldn’t have been justified in reacting in hurt and anger at such an insinuation, but it would have been tough.

        Also, nope, I’m not really sad (well, more that anyone would be) that I gave up a job that I loved and moved 3 states away from a town and friends that I adored after almost 10 years to marry my husband. I had to go on faith, just like everyone else does when making major life decisions. 🙂

        • Emily says:

          That’s a good question, Scholaratastic. As for single women in the church feeling this way, I can think of a couple specific cases. Yet, if we do look at general trends, even within the church, fewer people do get married and have fewer children than in decades past. So, specifically regarding actual people, not a ton, but something has definitely changed when you look at the broad picture. I’m sure my reasonings for balking at marriage in my younger years are the same as some, yet others have other struggles.

          Thinking about it all regarding women and the desire to marry, it seems like that is a pretty normal thing across the board — within the church or not. Wendy Shalit’s, A Return to Modesty, addresses that, but because of the acceptable promiscuity these days, there’s just not much reason to get married. OK, the book is getting older now, but I’m guessing the attitudes are still really similar concerning marriage.

          I guess to add to the personal detail — I always wanted to get married and dreamed about it and enjoyed dating, yet I felt boys would keep me from my educational goals. Once I realized the best place to meet a spouse was college, finally, my jr year, I lightened up about it all and got more serious about the whole dating idea.

          Now, children, on the other hand… I imagined having them someday, and imagined I would love them and do all these fun things with them, yet never groomed myself that direction. So, it’s been a lot of work to become that mother I imagined as my actions and life didn’t totally head that direction naturally. Well, that’s all a post for another day. 🙂

  6. Liz C says:

    All learning is good, period. It’s cool to know stuff, and learn more stuff. When it’s usable stuff that can be turned to an economic advantage for life, that’s awesome. But there’s a lot of non-economically-advantageous stuff that makes life rich, and that’s important, too.

    I don’t think it’s a set of questions that can be broadly answered. It’s so, so individual. What is a workable plan for one will be intolerable to another, because it’s not the path Heavenly Father needs that individual on for their ultimate joy.

    I feel very strongly about not getting *debt* in the pursuit of knowledge. Debt strangles the options for the future. If a young person chooses to get degrees (basic and advanced) without debt, they’re free when finished. They have options. Headed into adulthood with the equivalent of a mortgage to service every month is slavery, and then yes, I can see questioning the value of school for a person who will be at home; there’s only out-flow to service the debt, and no economic advantage to having taken it on!

    My soul would DIE if I were not learning new things while raising kids at home. I’ve not chosen to return to formal academic life to learn (I have developed an extremely low tolerance for academia’s twaddle), but that certainly doesn’t stop me from learning and exploring.

    A mom who loves chemistry? AWESOME benefit to her children! She’ll have such a neat perspective on the world, and know so many cool ways to explore it at a molecular level! Mom who has a degree (or deep passion) in botany? Car repair? Music? Blacksmithing? Baking? Awesome!

    I think it makes sense to think critically about whether or not the training we’re pursuing for economic reasons will actually support the life we want to live. My oldest is looking at culinary training; she’s also realistic in knowing that the life of a young chef in the typical restaurant kitchen world is NOT compatible with her other big goals related to family.

    So she’s looking beyond the typical path, for avenues and options to use her culinary desires to economically support the actual LIFE she wants, not the other way around. She’s using the time now (in her late teens) to set up internships, and summer programs baking in a convent setting, and personal chef shadowing, and other out-of-the-box options that could help her find HER specific niche.

    She’ll looking to enjoy the process, and enjoy the end results, and do it without debt that would limit her future options. I’m excited to watch it happen!

    I studied history/archaeology and English at university. I do use my degree-work: I’m a niche publisher/editor/author, and I teach historic concepts, interpretive techniques, and costuming. I get to do it from home with occasional trips away, so it supports my family economically, but also supports the lifestyle we prefer instead of compromising it.

    Okay, really short summary: YES. Gaining education from a variety of sources is worthwhile, particularly for Moms who will be wiping noses and bottoms and need some grand thoughts to keep them from going smack out of our tiny minds. 🙂

    • Emily says:

      Your daughter is so mature, Liz. I wish I’d had more insight into what types of educational training would be compatible with my future life.

  7. Paul says:

    “When you just stay at home”???!!!

    Say, what?

    If being a parent is the most important thing, why in the world would we say *just* stay at home?

    Why would we not look at traditional liberal arts education (whose chief aim is to teach one to be a life long learner) as the BEST way to prepare for our most central role as parents.

    I agree with Bonnie — there is a difference between education and job training, and education is beneficial in all we do.

    • Emily says:

      Yes, Paul. Isn’t it sad that we use that cliche? And, those general classes we take really do prepare us for real life. So glad I took them.

    • Brittany says:

      Yes, Paul, what you said! I read something once that convinced me to stop using the word to use the word “just” when talking about my work as a homemaker and full-time caretaker of children. Homemaking is not the absence of a career, it is a career as well. If my husband and I were both working outside the home, we would be paying people to do a lot of the things I do. Our culture has us believing that employment defines us, so not having a job makes you nothing. Our value is measured by how much income we can make. These are false, worldly ideas. Our doctrine teaches us that the most important work we do is in the walls of our own homes and no success can compensate for failure in it. I happen to use quite a bit that I learned for my degree as a parent because I studied Early Childhood Education, but if I had studied something else, it wouldn’t be wasted because research suggests a link between an educated mother and intelligent, high achieving children. Now, I question formal education a little more now than I used to, and have come to realize that schooling and education may not be synonymous, but there is definitely value in learning how to be a learner and learning how to think, no matter what.

  8. Angie says:

    I have loved the comments here. The idea that any mother ‘just’ stays home has always driven me nuts. The thought that any education can actually be wasted is also of the crazy making variety for me. Even though I got married (as a 27 yo RM) while in law school and had my first child shortly before graduation, my legal education has never been wasted. Because I am an attorney, I have been able to supplement my husband’s salary with an at-home practice until our fifth child was born and it just didn’t work any more. I was able to craft employment on my terms because I have marketable skills. Even when not working for pay, my legal skills have allowed me to help people settle the estates of loved ones (I’m an estate planning attorney by trade) and make end of life plans when loved ones are struck by illness. I’ve made many calls to bullying landlords and thug HOAs, wielding my knowledge of the law. I’ve felt comfortable in otherwise intimidating IEP meetings because I have been trained to understand how statutes work in my favor. I probably use my law degree as much now as I ever have, although no one is paying me to do so.

    I look at my degree and at those of many others like your pharmacy student friend and your chemist SIL as tools to be able to think outside the box. We have options that others might not have. We have to be realistic and craft those options, like Liz’s daughter has the foresight to plan. We have to not eclipse those options with crippling debt. We have to have the foundation of faith to choose the best options for our family. That may be the hardest part–to not listen to people telling us we are wasteful if we don’t work for pay–to be flexible to the Spirit and to be willing to take up paid work when it’s needful and set it down when the Spirit instructs. And to be confident enough in our own choices that we don’t call into question anyone else’s.

    • Emily says:

      So well thought out, Angie. Love it. I think we ought to do a better job at understanding that some of these higher trained/more professional occupations, like you say, can work in our favor as mothers. As a post hs grad I surely didn’t understand that, and probably not even as a college grad. It’s something I’ll try and teach my 3 daugters.

  9. Ray says:

    I have been in college admissions for the last few years, most recently as a Director of Undergraduate Admissions and now as a Director of Transfer Partnerships & External Recruiting Relationships. Thus, my perspective on this issue (and the accompanying issues) is a little different than some people’s views.

    1) Education is never wasted. Period. Some classes and approached are more or less helpful or useless, but education itself is the heart of being human. “Intelligence”, “light and truth” and all that jazz.

    2) Not all education happens in a classroom, and limiting it to a classroom is a bad thing.

    3) LOTS of important education happens in a classroom, especially in a society that values a college degree more and more (especially compared to when my parents and I were at that age) – and ignoring or devaluing classroom education is a bad thing. College degrees open doors quickly, and quick is important in lots of cases.

    4) Anyone, and I mean anyone, who insists that students not incur debt to gain a college degree is wrong – horribly wrong, in my opinion. Some professions (more and more, actually) require a college degree now, and reasonable debt to get into the workforce faster (to get a degree in 3-4 years) rather than later (5-8 years or more) is a good thing. The key is “reasonable” – and not attending a college where a four-year degree can take 5-7 years to earn. (The average time spent getting a Bachelor’s Degree now is over 5 years, and it’s higher at large, state-universities – especially in certain majors. California schools, for example, have many majors and classes that are “impacted” due to over-attendance / under-funding on professors.)

    In my own case, I had four main choices for a Bachelor’s Degree: 1) BYU (or a combination of BYU and UVCC (back when it still was a community college) in four years with no debt – IF I lived at home with my parents or married and had no children); 2) BYU in more than four years with no debt – IF I married my sweetheart and started a family while in college; 3) Harvard in four years with regular federal student loans – IF I remained single or married and had no children; Harvard in five years with regular federal student loans – IF I married and started a family while in college. ANY one of those choices would have been a good choice for me, depending on what I wanted my life to be. I chose reasonable debt and a family, and, with 20/20 hindsight, I would make the same choice every time. I would change other decisions that affected my life at the time, but my choices of where to attend, whether or not to marry, whether or not to incur debt to get my degree and the timing of starting my family would be the exact same.

    5) There are millions of dollars in private scholarships that go unallocated every year, because students don’t apply for them. Identifying these funds in the junior year of high school and writing for multiple scholarships can be a huge help.

    6) Private colleges often give scholarships that make up the difference between their published costs and those of public schools – and those scholarships generally apply to both in-state and out-of-state students. Also, when out-of-state costs are factored for public universities, even the published costs even out in many cases.

    7) Two-year colleges are a great option for many students, especially those with lower GPAs in high school, but most colleges give MUCH higher scholarships to entering freshmen than to transfer students. Often, the four-year cost for an entering freshman will be very close to the two-year cost for a transfer student (and sometimes actually lower) – and there are multiple advantages to attending one school for four years compared to more than one school, particularly when it comes to graduating in the shortest amount of time possible and internships/networking.

    8) A degree can make a huge difference in the type of employment that is available from home – the type of paid work that SAHMs and SAHDs can do. With the advances in non-office work open to us now, “having a job” and “staying at home” are not mutually exclusive anymore. It’s not an either/or proposition.

    I could say a whole lot more about this, but everything else revolves around #1 and #8.

    Education is never wasted, and work and family are no longer an either/or choice.

    • Liz C says:

      Keying in on debt: I have only anecdotal experiences for myself and those I know but: those of us who did university work without incurring debt have had a far, far different (and better) experience than those who took on debt that would be considered “reasonable” to most. Scholarships, grants, and personal work? Fantastic. Seeing a 20-something person have to put off kids for a decade because they have to service educational debt? Not so awesome. Paying off student loan debt for 20 years? Not so awesome. Even “reasonable” debt enslaves the debtor, and limits the range of choices open to the household.

      If we expect individuals to pay for church missions with cash, knowing that debt-spending for very worthy efforts is a poor choice, why would we recommend debt-spending for the worthy effort of obtaining a degree? Debt slavery is still debt slavery.

      With the experiences of self, family, and friends in mind, I can’t in good conscience recommend debt to a person wanting a degree. There are dozens of other options, as you mentioned, and I do think the options will continue to expand as education systems evolve.

  10. Ray says:

    Liz, I respect you, and I agree that there are no-debt options for many people to get the right level of degree in a reasonable time frame in the professional field they want to pursue. For many, many others, there aren’t such options – based on my own experiences and those of thousands of others with whom I have worked over the years (especially students with little or no family support for education). That is true of obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree, and it is even more true of graduate degrees.

    Church leaders tend to talk about reasonable debt being acceptable, generally speaking, in three major areas: home purchase, car purchase and education. I pay cash as much as possible; I currently use a debit card and no credit cards. I agree that what constitutes reasonable debt has become warped in our society, and I’ve written extensively about the dangers of debt . . . but that isn’t the same thing as condemning debt altogether.

    “knowing that debt-spending for very worthy efforts is a poor choice”

    Cite one statement from a top church leader that says this. I don’t think it exists, and I disagree with it strongly.

    “Debt slavery is still debt slavery.”

    Agreed – but not all debt is debt slavery – or do you equate all debt with slavery?

    Sincere question:

    Do you accept reasonable debt spending for a house?

    • Angie says:

      Ray, I agree with you on the reasonableness of debt for education. I also believe that it is essential to determine educational goals before going into educational debt. Determining as near as is possible what your career goals are before incurring debt and going into the minimum amount for the maximum education seems to be prudent and reasonable educational debt to me. Charging the full four-year cost of a liberal arts degree with no goal outcome, just intellectual enrichment, seems unwise. The comparison is going into modest debt to buy a modest home to house your family as opposed to signing away your future on the largest mortgage you can acquire for the biggest home the bank will let you get.

      My husband and I are BYU educated attorneys. The combined cost of both our graduate educations is less than the single educational expense of many of the attorneys we meet who attended both higher and lower ranked institutions. We have met many who are tied to long hours in big firms–with the attendant tax on family life–when they’d rather be practicing less lucrative public interest law because they are servicing an unrealistic debt load. That sort of unwise expenditure is slavery to me.

      The Church has mission funds both general and local to help those who wish to serve to do so without debt. But for education, the church administers the Perpetual Education Fund–debt that must be repaid to keep the perpetual fund perpetual–because our leaders recognize the power of education to change futures is worthy of modest debt expenditures.

    • Emily says:

      I loved it when we realized current counsel included debt for a modest house, not for a giant-super fancy-super expensive one. I suppose if we want one of those, we’ll have to save up for it and pay cash! 🙂

      • Liz C says:

        If you build one with more than two toilets, save up for a maid, too… I don’t want to have to clean toilets all week! 🙂

        No matter what wise counsel comes out, there will always be people who take it as license… glad there are sensible folks (*waves fingers at Em) who get the spirit of it, and seek inspiration in their own arrangements!

    • Liz C says:

      Well, we haven’t bought a house because we’d have to take on debt to do it, so in practical application, I think there are always alternatives. I know more than one household that paid cash for their home. It takes a lot more time, but we’ve not found it a terrible burden to wait and save. It’s just slower than society tells us we ought to have things.

      It’s not possible to go through life without incurring obligation; technically, even my utility bill is a debt, because I pay for it after I’ve incurred obligation by using the electricity. I can acknowledge that, and meet the obligation, and still explore investing cash in solar panels. 🙂

      Having worked really hard to remove all consumer debt and educational debt from our household obligations, though, I have seen both sides of the theoretical coin. The difference in a feeling of liberty is pretty amazing. Our ability to further our own goals (instead of focusing on paying back old obligations) has been really amazing.

      I like to encourage people to look at all the options, not just the typical ones. If it takes two years longer to pay for school with cash, and the household doesn’t have 10 years of interest-bearing payments to then manage, that’s a worthwhile trade-off in my mind, but a lot of people won’t see it that way, and I suppose that’s fine for them. They’re going to make different choices than we will.

      Yes, I do see debt (all debt) as slavery. That it’s societally-approved does nothing to change that in my mind. Having known both sides, it would take a lot of kicking and screaming to get me to take on that role again.

      It’s been my understanding that senior couples are encouraged to be debt-free before serving a mission; young missionaries aren’t encouraged to use a credit card to finance their service, to my knowledge. The simplified version of current counsel is here: . It does mention mortgage and education debt, but the rest of the language seems to encourage avoiding debt and working hard to get out of debt far more than anything else.

      As with everything else, seeking personal inspiration has to be the key. We’ve been inspired and encouraged that it is possible for us to live and thrive without undertaking debt (no credit cards, no car loans, no school debt… seriously, we save up and pay cash for everything, including orthodontics without dental insurance, since getting out of debt ourselves).

      Since our circumstances are not terribly different from a lot of people working with a low income, and we’ve seen tremendous blessings in our ability to stretch cash, come up with creative non-cash solutions, and expansions in our household capacity to live without debt spending, all while working with an income that most would assume leaves “no choice”, I do think there’s space to encourage others to take on the challenge, and see what options open up for them beyond the basics.

      These days, it’s kind of radical, and I get that. But if my comments will encourage a woman (or man) of any age to look at a whole range of inspired options to aid in getting the education, career, or enrichment they crave, radical may be just what they need. I’m not talking about theoretical situations, or how easy it is to do it a different way; I’m talking about the practical, hands-on decisions and sacrifices we’ve chosen to make in pursuit of what we feel inspired to undertake. It’s counter-culture, I suppose, but it’s actually very realistic. Just *different*.

  11. Ray says:

    “We have met many who are tied to long hours in big firms–with the attendant tax on family life–when they’d rather be practicing less lucrative public interest law because they are servicing an unrealistic debt load. That sort of unwise expenditure is slavery to me. ”


    Back to the question of the post title: No, college education is not for naught – unless it’s not important for one’s career goals.

    • Angie says:


    • Emily says:

      I actually don’t think I agree with the “unless it’s not important for one’s career goals” statement, at least if you’re referring to career = job. I think if you can go to college debt-free for personal enrichment, then why not? I know that attitude probably drives colleges nuts because one of their main goals is to get people into jobs. Now if career includes SAHM, then yeah, my schooling was beneficial to my “career.” I suppose I’d fall into the category of my education being for naught if you consider I got a degree in education then ended up a secretary/clerk, which didn’t require a BS at all. When I was considering a master’s, I went batty with the questions about the job/career after I got the degree. Heck, I didn’t know what I’d do, I just wanted the learning and experience! I kind of wanted to be a perpetual student, another thing colleges aren’t big fans of.

      I guess I’ve been looking at the whole thing this way today, kind of back to what Bonnie touched on above. In regards to education, there’s 1, lifelong learning/intelligence. This may be achieved through college, community classes, self-learning, etc., but I’d be very careful about accruing debt here as it leans toward the hobby/non profitable category. (Now sure, if your hobby is your job, fantastic, all the better, but then you’ll fall into education category 2 anyway.

      2, There’s career/job training, this may be acquired through college, trade schools, applied tech colleges, on the job training and may require debt to achieve, but sure is liberating if you don’t!

  12. Ray says:

    Emily, I agree that formal education can be excellent for any reason and that debt-free education can be good no matter the circumstances – but I also believe some kind of degree or certification is important for everyone, because there is no guarantee whatsoever that someone will be able to stay out of the workforce throughout life. Death, disability and other situations can make it impossible for a man or woman to stay home and not work, no matter how much they want to do so.

    I just want to make sure everyone understands that I’m not saying formal, traditional, college education is necessary or even right for everyone. I also think, however, that nobody should avoid some kind of formal education/training just because that person plans on staying home and raising children.

    Interestingly, that is the official position of the LDS Church, as well. Prioritize family, but get as much education as possible.

    • Ray says:

      In other words, the official position is based on “and”, not “either/or”.

      • Emily says:

        Right. And you could add to your statement about not being able to stay out of the workforce forever even not WANTing to stay out of the workforce forever.

    • Emily says:

      Yes, the marketable skill! And it’s great how undergrad education provides that foundation that’s even transferrable between industries.

    • Tiffany W. says:

      I’ve thought about this post a lot. I have a bachelor’s degree in English literature, a degree which was fascinating and wonderful to earn. However, in terms of earning potential, it doesn’t necessarily offer me a lot. I’ve been home since I graduated having children and raising them. I’ve utilized my degree in many ways in teaching my kids, researching issues that are applicable to them, maintaining blogs about our experiences living in three different countries, and emphasizing to my children the value of education.

      I take a lot of comfort in my degree. I know that finding a job if I needed it wouldn’t be easy, but I do believe that it will help. I also know that it is a jumping off point for me if/when I decide to pursue more education or employment opportunities.

      Because our time on this earth is supposed to be challenging and filled with trials, I can’t honestly expect that my life is going to go perfectly. I’ve seen the ups and downs that occur in other families. Out of the 8 girls in my family, three of my sisters’ husbands have gone through serious health issues which caused employment problems, lay-offs due to economy, and financial difficulties that were not caused by personal choices but by the actions of others. Sadly, all three of my sisters in these situations did not have degrees, some level of career training, or enough education to help them step in to adequately support the needs of their families. I have watched them struggle enormously.

      The fact is we are not all blessed with perfect health, accidents happen, and as sad and difficult as it is, divorce happens. I think obtaining a good education is an essential part of preparation for marriage and family.

      So what happens if you don’t ever have a situation like that and the financial security of your family is never at risk. Let’s say you never go to work or use that degree in a professional capacity. Does that mean the effort, years of work, and even money are for naught? I don’t think so. I think that the education of a woman who utilizes it for her family will impact generations. I think that they way mothers view education rubs off on their children. I think that we women need to know how to study, research, assess, and analyze issues that are relevant to our families. Education can give us the tools to do that.

      Lest I be seen as a degree or education snob, I also understand that a college degree isn’t for everyone. Neither of my parents attended college and are very intelligent, hard-working people. But our society is past the point where a high school diploma is sufficient for obtaining decent employment with adequate wages. I anticipate that at least one of my children may struggle with college. I know at that point we’ll research all options to ensure that he is able to get what he needs in the most appropriate manner. I’m aware that professions like plumbing are struggling to find people willing to train. And that is a good profession which will never run out of work. We’ll look at all options.

      I guess I ultimately believe that any woman who works on her education will be blessed with that education and that we shouldn’t disparage or discourage women from seeking education when she plans to marry and be a mother.

  13. templegoer says:

    I’m uncomfortable with the proposition that either we work or we raise children. We work when we raise children-every mother is a working mother in my eyes.
    But what I’m also saying is that we can work for earnings as well as raising children. I’ve done both at different times in my child-raising, and we have been a much happier family with our child care and work as a shared experience, whatever anyone else’s opinion, this is what worked for us. Our kids seem to appreciate the different inputs in their lives, and I;m not sure that I either seek or need anyone’;s approval for that. We own our choices, as much as I love the teachings of the church on prioritising our children. I think in part we prioritise them in showing them that we support each other as parents and we’re able to do business together, negotiating change in our lives as needed.
    But it distresses me to think that, should my daughter have the talent to be a surgeon, a midwife or a housewife, the views of others might discourage her. I want her to play as active a part in her generation in order to bless the lives of those around her with the talents with which she has been blessed. My husband has had many female colleagues and bosses and that has never been a problem to him. He sees it as part of life and is as supportive to his daughters in their working lives as he is to our sons.
    To any college educated women, life is long and various. Your education will shape your future. The education I am currently pursuing is in crochet. We all bring different things to the table

    • Ray says:

      Well said, templegoer.

    • Emily says:

      I think you’re totally right in that yes, we work when we raise children, so I hope I didn’t come across as saying we don’t! But in the eyes of the world, it seems to sadly be considered a lesser work and some of us, myself included, get caught up in that stigma. Part of my motherhood experience has been trying to change my own attitudes toward motherhood.

      I appreciated you bringing up the point about working for money and raising children. I remember having the attitude that if you worked for money while raising kids, that was bad. A artist friend and I had a good talk and she pointed out, does it really matter if you’re earning money (or not) for the things we do? We’re going to fill our time with something, so isn’t it all the better if we got paid for what we do? I think she’s totally right. Man, if I got paid for all the time I spend on the computer, I’d be rich! There is still that right, personal balance between what we do with our time (for pay or not) and our children. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own stuff. OK, now I’m just rambling!

      Now here’s a little question for further discussion/thought. I do agree that women should have the same opportunities as men and should pursue whatever talents they find in their lives, but knowing Heavenly Father’s plan for us and our families, do you think that sometimes we get side-tracked with our talents and other Earthly pursuits and put them above the family? I suppose these days it’s easier to balance that as some workplaces are becoming more family friendly. Even studies are showing that more egalitarian relationships between spouses are really, really good concerning work/children. Sometimes I feel that maybe I’m mistaken in clinging to the mom stays home/dad works model, yet I still feel that that’s the model the church encourages us to pursue, and I believe there are still some real pro’s to it, especially when there are still young kids in the home.

      OK, another thought, I keep meaning to quit. The other day, after taking one of my kids to the doctor I realized how much I love that my girls see a female doctor. Our clinic actually has several of them. So, yes, what would I do without women pursuing their dreams? I really appreciate they do.

      So often, it’s easy to take answers we receive for ourselves and transfer them to others, isn’t it? Obviously my life direction right now is to be a sahm, so I need to be really aware that I don’t push that lifestyle on others, as we all have our own paths.

      OK, I’ll be quiet now. Have fun with crocheting! My mom loves knitting and I’m loving sewing!

      • Ray says:

        “it’s easy to take answers we receive for ourselves and transfer them to others”

        Amen. It’s a central natural (wo)man tendency.

        If you are interested, read the following from my personal blog:

        “The Danger of Seeing Patterns as Formulas” (

      • Liz C says:

        I take some encouragement from the early Saints in Utah: it was women, organizing themselves to support other women, who made it possible for female doctors to train back east, then come home and start hospitals that served women and children. Women made it possible for children to be nurtured and cared for while their mothers undertook paid work. The notion that women don’t contribute financially to the household is a 20th century one; even at the height of the “cult of domesticity” in the 19th century, women routinely made an economic impact on and contribution to the family.

        I think if we can avoid the attitude that unity is the same as uniformity, we can leave a lot of room for individual households to work with Heavenly Father to determine the best course, while still supporting the ideal of male/female stewardship, without discounting anyone’s efforts within the structure.

  14. Michelle says:

    A favorite article on the topic of women and education and career/life plans is by Casey Hurley at BYU-I.

    A few highlights:

    A quote from Elder Scott: “A mother has got to be brilliantly educated in today’s
    world. one of the greatest gifts that can be given to today’s children is
    a mother in the home who is well-educated.”

    I also appreciated her thoughts on making plans based on the Proclamation, not based necessarily on others’ views of what ‘balanced’ choices might look like. Men’s and women’s lives are not the same, and we ought not treat them as such. Helping women think through the uncertainties that our lives can bring in terms of these kinds of decisions can help women navigate the decisions better.

    I also appreciate — and have tried to practice — the idea of reinforcing that there are so many different ways a woman’s life can unfold.

    I’m like Angie in that I got married in my later 20s and have a grad degree. I didn’t work with my degree (minus a few months of consulting before I got pregnant with #3), but I have used it in a variety of ways nonetheless even though I’ve been a SAHM since my first was born. I’m a big fan of helping young women understand that it’s possible to keep an active résumé and network even in simple ways along the way. I think too often we think of building skills as equaling making money and it greatly limits the kind of creativity and flexibility that can come from thinking outside of that box.

    Lastly, I think education doesn’t have to all always be done by a certain age. My sister finished her two degrees during the years that her first four children were born and being raised and graduated at age 27. My friend graduated with her youngest son at age 50. I think education can have an impact on our mothering, but I also think we ought not be so prescriptive about it that we bind women to feel like they are doing something wrong if they don’t finish their degree by the time they start a family. (This happens far too often in my mind.) Again, there are so many ways a life can unfold.

    • Emily says:

      Just to add, too, Michelle, don’t you think that as time goes on and you get older, your interestes change, so in some ways, it’s almost easier to know what you want to learn about (especially if you didn’t know as a young person)? You come to know yourself better as you grow. Thanks also for sharing the link to the talk!

      • Michelle says:

        Absolutely! I’m amazed at how much what I thought I would do or be doing or be interested in has changed over the years. Doors have opened that I never would have dreamed of myself. I am not as much a believer in making dreams happen but rather in letting them unfold. God does a much better job than I can with my life. He’s guided me to dreams I never knew I had.

    • Liz C says:

      One of my favorite aunties completed her post-grad in chemistry at retirement (she worked as a chemist for a municipal waste system.) I think it’s fantastic to see women continue to learn and do, and not letting themselves stagnate.

      Seasons of life are very important to acknowledge–getting locked into a proscribed timeline doesn’t often serve that, as Michelle mentioned. There are so many tracks!

  15. E says:

    I have waited a few days to respond because I was, frankly, dumbfounded by this post. I don’t know how common your opinion is that education beyond high school is not needed for women, maybe even undesirable for women, but I have not seen or heard it expressed quite like this. How likely is it that your future pharmacist friend will never need to work to help support herself and her family? If she does need to work to help support herself and her family, would it be easier to do so as a pharmacist or as a high school graduate with no specific vocational or professional training?

    My experience is that I have known many women over the course of my life whose financial planning has consisted of marrying someone to support them. Maybe they get training as a hairstylist or a nurse (something that only takes a couple years after high school) just in case they need to make a little extra or have something to do in addition to homemaking. Things tend not to go well for them over the long term if they do not marry someone who earns an above average wage and never has episodes of unemployment. If they end up as single mothers, their income is not enough to support their family and they become reliant on government and church welfare just to stay housed and fed. Their children are often inadequately supervised or even unsupervised in the after school hours. In contrast, several years ago I lived next door to a pharmacist who had been divorced and was able to support herself and her son very nicely working while he was at school. There was no need for overtime, and she had freedom to alter her schedule around special events.

    I am a physician and a mother and I have several female friends who are also physicians. Some are single parents. They have the ability to work part time and earn far more (working 2 or 3 days a week) than they could working full time in a job that requires less training. I have the freedom to block days or hours out of my schedule to go to school programs, etc. My staff does not have the same freedom. One of my partners is married to a pharmacist. She does not need to work for income but she works one day a week to maintain her skills while he cares for their children. I think this is wise.

    I think we do a huge, huge disservice to young women if we discourage them, either overtly or more subtly, to limit their educational attainment. I appreciate that you are not verbalizing your belief that becoming a pharmacist is a “waste” for someone who values motherhood, but I believe that this type of attitude can be conveyed in more subtle ways, to the detriment of many young women in the church.

    • Emily says:

      Hey, thanks for your comment. I do want to clarify one thing though, I am definitely pro post-h.s. education for women, so I’m not sure how you came to that conclusion. However, though, I definitely went into college shunning the higher/more professional careers for women thinking they’d take me away from potential future home life. Like the lower-paying professions you stated, I did steer toward that type, including that of education because I believed that if I needed to work, it would allow me to be home when the kids were home. However, after some somewhat recent on line discussions and enlightenment by some young lawyers I realized, as you point out, the huge benefit of training in these more professional areas. I’m really excited to steer my own daughters that way as it opens up a lot of doors.

      I’m also glad to hear that you haven’t run across this attitude that women who stay home with kids don’t need college. It made me think where did I hear that? I suppose as a young person perhaps friends said it on occasion if a girl were to say she wanted to be a SAHM? Probably more recently it’s an attitude I’ve seen in certain non-LDS circles (which means if you haven’t heard it in LDS circles, that the point of women in education is being taken to heart). I also have several relatives who’ve been successful without college, so an underlying attitude in the family is you don’t need college and a diploma is just a piece of paper. These relatives have had training obviously, but often not college training.

      • E says:

        Thanks, Emily. Your sentence “Why go to college, for that matter, if you’re just going to end up at home?” Is what suggested to me that you didn’t consider post-high school education to be important for young women who value homemaking and hope to do it full time.

  16. Ray says:

    “I don’t know how common your opinion is that education beyond high school is not needed for women, maybe even undesirable for women”

    E, you misread this post – BADLY. That is not at all what Emily was saying; in fact, it is the polar opposite of what she actually wrote.

    Please, if you return and read this comment, go back and re-read the post – slowly and carefully. I hope you can see what Emily really said in this post.

  17. templegoer says:

    I’m not sure that is a misreading of the post Ray,the poster raises the question as if it may lead to an alternative route other than attending to a family, as if these are opposing routes into adulthood. It does trouble me that this idea is actively being presented to our young women in exactly these terms and it leads young women to see themselves as having a future that consists only of dependence on their husband’s income. I accept that we need to offer an alternative to aggressive careerism and stress the importance of family life, but the gospel based learning environment can lean so aggressively against achievement for young woman that they feel their only future is outside the church and that troubles me. I’d like to see us offering many examples of women fulfilling their potential at whatever stage of their lives and playing an active part in their homes and communities, alongside their brethren. More a long the lines of ‘a time for every purpose under heaven’.
    If I may illustrate-we have as a couple been through many periods of unemployment which could easily have left us homeless. Because of the education I had received at tertiary level before having children which meant that my husband sacrificed substantially, we have been able to avoid that. Illness has also taken it’s toll, but because I am able to earn a decent hourly rate for my work, an hour’s work a day has enabled us to limp on through my husband’s latest round of unemployment.
    That’s the practical-the principaled for me as that we need women everywhere, in order to represent half the world. What women bring to the workplace is unique and essential.If we have designed systems where women have to make choices between having children and working then we need to change the systems and make them family friendly. Whilst the priority of both parents needs to be the welfare of their children and some may choose times and seasons where that needs to be their primary focus, developing their skills and abilities is also an appropriate aspiration. The problem it seems to me is in the assumption of either\or.

  18. Ray says:

    The point of Emily’s post is that a college education is NOT for naught, even if someone never works professionally outside the home. There are a couple of rhetorical questions that can make reading it a bit tricky, but they are rhetorical. The message is to get a college education, if possible, even if you have no intention of working outside the home for pay.

    “The problem it seems to me is in the assumption of either\or.”

    Exactly, and both Emily and I agree with that.

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