06/10/2013 04:16 pm ET Updated Jul 13, 2014

Thinking About Sending My 3-Year-Old to College

I've been all over the place in thinking about how to approach my 3-year-old's schooling. Or unschooling... or private schooling... or home schooling... or charter schooling? I'm not sure if it's the same for parents living in more suburban or rural areas, but for this Chicago mom, it feels a little frantic and hazy at the same time. It's not a combination that inspires any sort of confidence. Like so many times before, I feel like I'm trying to climb back into a boat that just tipped over.

Even with the practice of engaging with chaos on a regular basis, education seems especially hard. After I think about it for a while, getting stressed out over the consequences of making the wrong choice, considering the political and ideological baggage that attend each option, I head down one of two paths: 1. Each step in Ida's education leads to the next with the final phase being the all-important, can't-be-missed college experience, and likely followed by some kind of graduate school. Since it all starts with kindergarten, it is imperative that she go to the best possible kindergarten and I'd better get busy YESTERDAY figuring out how to make this happen, (not to mention figuring out what constitutes the "best" kindergarten) or 2. It will probably all work out with or without my psychic angst. Who even knows what education and careers will look like by the time Ida's turn comes?! Maybe college won't be a thing anymore and we'll just be racing our hover-scooters in a money-free utopia ('cause it looks like that's where we're headed, right?). Let's all chill out and listen to some jazz, man.

It seems to me that this is one area where things were a bit clearer for parents 30 years ago. When I was 5, my parents sent me to the school. The good local school where I would go for grades K-6. After which I'd go to the Jr. High School. Followed by the High School. After graduation, there was no doubt that I would be going to college. My parents saved for it, and when the time came, the only question was where. For better of worse, I have a degree in Philosophy, which I employ daily to generate horrifying impromptu bedtime stories for Ida: "in conclusion, it's just like Nietzsche says, if you stare long enough into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you. Night night!" Money well spent. And yet, I loved getting a college education. I discovered learning in a new way. I discovered writing. Back and forth I bounce again. Path 1, path 2, path 1, path 2.

But as we have long suspected, Aladdin was right. It's a whole new world for you and me, fellow parents of little kids. I'm slightly hesitant when it comes to planning for Ida's education past high school (and, as demonstrated above, I sometimes choose an ambivalent path even to that point). I meet more and more people my age or a little younger who are in staggering debt with few job prospects. They tell me that they regret going to college -- that it was neither a good learning experience nor a step toward gainful employment. It seems that for this generation, and potentially future generations, college is no longer the sure path to a career it once promised to be. It seems insane to me to be thinking about the career of a child who made the following joke this morning: "Baba Goulash!" and ran away laughing maniacally.

After an initially unproductive Google search entitled, "Is college even going to be a thing in 10 years?" yielding such results as this New York Times piece entitled "Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor" (Great article, but the title definitely invites me to picture a tweed coat-wearing dean wielding a giant net and asking people if they want some candy), I got serious. After some time spent down the Internet wormhole of related search after related search, I started to stumble upon programs like an online masters of social work. Some combination of the promise of "Today's challenges. Tomorrow's opportunities," the fact that the program has a specific focus that strikes me as relevant (service to Hispanic families and children), or that students can start the program with a number of different previous educational backgrounds gave me a small sense of optimism as I pondered Ida's educational future. I guess more than anything, this at least seems like an attempt to evolve and shape higher education into a more diverse platform to suit a more pluralistic student body. I felt like more space was opening up in what I imagined to be a constricted place.

And from there, options started to spool out. I found seemingly new, niche programs addressing real needs that are pressing right now. I calmed down again. We're all in the same boat, on the same choppy water, parents. And just like all of the other stuff we've had to figure out on the fly with just our wits and will (and a spare granola bar for sustenance), we'll probably find the right path for our families, at the right time, in the right place. Everything is probably going to be okay. And when it's not, we're going to figure out how to make it okay. We're parents. That's what we do.

I'm still soaking wet. But I managed to right the boat again and climb back inside. Until the next time I initiate the familiar mental frenzy of trying to wrap my mind around making educated educational choices for my 3-year-old.