The Big Ts and College Outcomes

The Big Ts and College Outcomes


Why can you fairly consistently put any two people into a given situation and end up with vastly different results? The question has fascinated me for some time, particularly as I am privy to the financials of numerous people through work and ministry. I have met public schoolteachers with money to burn and flat-broke corporate executives. Some folks feel blessed by their wealth and others curse the day they came into it. Some walk through hard times with head held high and others with self contempt. Whatever the events in question I observe outcomes of greed and generosity, fear and excitement, success and failure, personal responsibility and others-blaming. Why the differences?

Over time I have come to find that one’s financial results have not much to do with externally observable factors. Rather, how one fares largely comes about due to one’s philosophical view of money. What is money to you? Once I ferret that out then with fair certainty I can tell you the sorts of results you can expect to show for your financial circumstances, whether it involves earning, saving, spending, or investing.

In a similar fashion when we look at the college scene today – the stats, the stories, the trends – if nothing else we note vastly different outcomes across the population of students.  Some graduate without a hiccup and some drop out; some credit their degree with a higher quality of life while others strive with careers and debt. Why? And what will your results be? Tell me what college is to you and I can probably answer that question. And for the record: my earlier-held views sure account for my struggles and failures as a student/early graduate.

In life we possess or manage any number of items or experiences, whether it be money, education, people, time, food, bodies, vehicles, etc. And in almost every instance, we will regard these in one of four ways: as Trash, Toys, Treasures, or Tools (the big Ts). And this makes all the difference.

Let’s talk money, for instance. If a person regards money as trash, and some do, one will tend to avoid it altogether in lieu of other things. If one regards money as a toy it tends to go towards immediate consumption and depreciating goods, with little of lasting value to show for it when the income stops. Those who treasure money tend to do well financially but will run into problems with whatever else interferes with its accumulation, including interpersonal relationships (think Ebeneezer Scrooge and Hetty Green) and spiritual pursuits (“For the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil…,” “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and money.“). Or if one sees money as a tool, they will use it to further whatever it is that they treasure, which can be anything from causes to God to fame to family.

In the same way, how a person views college upon entrance to it will largely predetermine the long term results of that experience. Send any four kids on to school and…

  • The college-is-toy student has become much more prevalent on campus in recent decades and explains the rise of the party atmosphere found on many campuses. College is key for its here-and-now benefits, including a dearth of responsible elders, the career delay, the parties, the hotties, and the first and last crack at this level of behavioral freedom. This student focuses on her next four years, not on college’s impact on her next forty. As one might expect, these students tend to drop out more than average, attend low-expectation schools, skate by and take classes based on their ease, and not surprisingly have little social value to show for their experience if they do graduate.
  • The college-is-treasure student has bought into the idea that a college education, in and of itself, matters and that a degrees hold some sort of intrinsic value. They consider higher education to be of highest aspiration and would consider themselves less of a person without a diploma on the wall. Further, this person cares passionately about the perceived caliber of the school he attends, taking great pride in admission to a famous university. If the student moves on in academic pursuits this attitude may serve him well, but can set him up for failure once in the real world. These students by and large pay too much for what they get (hint: world-class education is free). Further frustrations set in when the rest of us don’t value their degree near as much, when the greasy mechanic charges more per hour than they make, or when it’s discovered that GPAs and majors are rarely relevant to the workplace.
  • The college-is-tool student considers a longer-term objective beyond the degree. She has explored whether alternative routes can provide similar outcomes for the cost and is pursuing it only because of the net-positive impact it will have on the bigger picture. She is also realistic about what else she needs to accomplish during the next four years, including establishing networks and developing practical skills. Each school, major, and class is selected with care and in light of its contribution toward what she truly treasures. She asks each time she faces a decision “will this put me closer to or further away from my more ultimate goals?” She may not have as much fun or earn a remarkable GPA but financially tends to excel and transitions into life after college well, having thought ahead to the post-graduation years from the outset.

While I’m happy to give tips and strategies in order to financially survive college, and can point you to several other sources that do the same, you’ll find that more than anything it’s the mentality you approach college with that will make the biggest difference. In fact, it will largely determine whether or not you care.

Whatever your pursuit I’d encourage you to firstly think about it in light of the big Ts. Before getting all wrapped up in related information and tactics, take a minute to contemplate the overall context of your life and values and determine where the activity in question fits in the larger scheme of things. Specifically, determine that which is your treasure. The rest will almost fall into place as you act accordingly.