Finishing a college degree is hard. It’s an endurance race: It takes determination to keep going, and a belief that it will all be worth it in the end.
But what if the current generation of students is just less sold on needing a college degree than their parents are?
That’s the case for one family outside of Detroit. The father, Paul Carr, is 47, and he’s pushing to finish a college degree he started right after high school but stopped pursuing when he found out his then-girlfriend was pregnant with their first child. Today, that child, Qayyim, is 25 years old, and he, too, recently put college on hold. But unlike his dad, Qayyim isn’t nearly as sold on going back to finish.
These two have loads in common. They both attended Morehouse College. And they even chose the same major, political science. But when EdSurge talked with them as part of our Second Acts series about returning adult college students, it was clear their views on the value of college are vastly different.
This dialogue was part of the third episode of that series that ran in September. This week we’re rerunning that episode, and we’re bringing you the transcript of that section. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
When we connected via Zoom, Qayyim was wearing a Nintendo 64 shirt, referencing a classic video game system that his dad might have played back when he was in his 20s. Qayyim, whose nickname is Q, says he is passionate about jobs and gigs that just don’t require a college degree. He’s been building a following on Twitch, the streaming service that encourages people to watch users play video games as they give color commentary or otherwise engage with their audience online.
Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts, or use the player on this page. Or read a partial transcript below, lightly edited for clarity. If you want to skip right to this conversation between father and son, you’ll find it at about 34 minutes in.
EdSurge: Are you convinced that you need to finish your college degree?
Qayyim Carr: It’s a different perspective when it comes to my generation because within the last few years, me and my peers have branched out and found so many different opportunities where success, or what we label as success, can come from.
It definitely can come from degrees. I have a couple of my friends and peers that graduated from college, wherever they went to, being successful in their career. But I’ve also had friends who have degrees and have graduated from their institution that are kind of in limbo. So I think right now what’s best for me personally is figuring out what it is that I’m passionate about. And if that requires me to go out and finish my degree, then of course, by all means, I’ll be full steam ahead. But if my passion—what I need to do to get there—doesn’t require that I need a degree, then it’s not a priority for me.
That’s kind of where I’m at right now—figuring out what that exactly is. Because the last thing I want to do is—because my parents and many of my peers’ parents work so hard for us to go to school—the last thing you wanna do is kind of be there and you’re just there. I want to make sure that I have a clear understanding of what it is that I’m passionate about before I make any further movements.
Paul, what did you say to your son when he first told you he was stopping out of Morehouse?
Paul Carr: I didn’t want him to do it. I didn’t want him to take a break. I wanted him to finish because I know firsthand how life starts to happen. I know how easy it is to start living and incurring the responsibilities of adulting. You become a parent, a father, a husband, a homeowner—you just start having to pay property taxes, like things happen. I didn’t want him to stop that momentum.
And on a practical level, I didn’t want the investment that my wife and I have been making to not have a return.
Paul, you do see upsides to your son’s decision, though.
Paul Carr: For example, Qayyim had an apartment in Atlanta. He moved off campus and then he and his roommates got an apartment. And so I’m seeing a huge shot in his growth in adulting. In his abilities to manage a household and put it into practice. And in that way I see the benefit of him taking time away because I think part of the problem is that the model for higher education is in a sense antiquated—in so much that we ask children (they’re technically adults legally at 18, but we’re asking children) to decide what they want to do for the remainder of their years alive. And there’s no way that they can know coming out of high school what that really looks like.
It used to work. There weren’t women in the workforce when this model was a really big deal. And so women knew that they were essentially entering a life of domestication, which is awful—the sexism and misogyny behind that is just really bad. Men were going to either take blue-collar trades jobs, for which college wasn’t necessary, or they would become an accountant or an engineer, an attorney or a doctor. There were, you know, five or six trajectories that you could take. And so with education, you knew what you were gonna do. You really only had a few options. And then if you didn’t need college, you become a mechanic or you become some skilled trades worker.
But those young men lived their lives and they retired doing the same thing for 40 years. And the world is such a much smaller place, but such a vastly larger place at the same time. Opportunity is abundant, so there are a multitude of ways [to make a living].
I used to tell Q, he’s got his Nintendo shirt on. He’d be gaming, and I was like, “Listen, cut that crap off until you can show me that you can make a living playing these video games. You’re wasting your time, cut it off.” And what did he do? He went out and got a job on a gaming truck. And so now that he’s streaming [on Twitch], and I love the fact that he’s determined and stubborn—like my dad. He’s built like my dad and he reminds me a lot of my father, his grandpa, with that determination. So really, I probably should have used reverse psychology and said, “Dude, there’s no way you could finish in four years.” It might have worked that he went straight through.
But it’s kind of awesome to see him finding ways to make money that matches his passion. Maybe not as much money as I think could be made if he had some business classes, though.
When you hear your dad’s advice that you should finish now, what is your argument back?
Qayyim Carr: I feel like the conversation that we can never escape is time. The time around us has changed a lot, you feel me? I think from the generation that precedes me, my parents’ generation, there was only about six or seven jobs that people could really go into in the workforce. My parents were raised with parents who a lot of the time worked at plants—a lot of the time worked at these hard-labor jobs where their parents would tell them that the way out of this and to avoid this is to get an education and get into a better position. So with that upbringing and that being instilled in a person, your only perspective is going to be that education is the way.
Now it is a completely different day and age. People are making a lot of money doing other things. So my quick argument will always be that there’s always another way. Education—knowledge is good, but it’s not the end all be all. I can still be successful without it.
What would you say to somebody who is an expert on labor markets if they said that the statistics show that the best way to have a stable career is a job that requires a college degree, and that you’re better off just finishing it. What would you say to that argument?
Qayyim Carr: I would say, How long have I been building this community? Let’s say I have 100,000 subscribers on Twitch, right? A hundred-thousand subscribers on Twitch means that every person that subscribed to your account is [subscribing] to it for $5.99 a month. If 100,000 people are subscribed to your Twitch every month, you’re seeing that times $5.99. Then you quitting that, or leaving that community to go work a job [has a cost].
And a lot of the jobs that we have today [that require a traditional college degree] aren’t going to be here tomorrow. Technology is statistically becoming a bigger and bigger part of today’s society as we speak. We will always have the core work fields, and I can always respect that, but it would make no sense for me knowing that the world is heading into a more technology- dominant society to leave that and abandon that in hopes that I might be able to pick up a job in a 9-to-5 where I clock in and clock out—and I might be able to get this. It’s a lot of “might.”
Where I know that me, myself, can physically put the work in to build my community in the metaverse or wherever I want to and still make a profit and live off of it.
What is your reaction to hearing that?
Paul Carr: As a father, when I hear Q say that he can put his eggs in the basket of education and it’s no guarantee that the statistics will be in his favor because some of those jobs might go the way of the dinosaur—that it’s about how much he puts into it. In a way, I had to sit back and just listen and say, I’m proud that he is willing to work diligently to bring to fruition what it is that he envisions for himself. The other side of that dad coin is that I wish he had had that drive for school.
Qayyim, could you sum up your takeaways from this conversation?
Qayyim Carr: My takeaway would be understanding that my father is a father who does love me and my siblings, and I know that the advice that he gives is only coming from a place of that love. And I know that regardless of the decision that I decide to make, he’s gonna be in full support. With that I also understand that education is important. So I’ll definitely take that into consideration.
In a way, this conversation ends in a kind of stalemate. It’s a time of uncertainty, and no one knows quite what the future holds.
College is a kind of bet, and even if it feels like a safe bet, it can feel daunting to get all the way through.
One takeaway from our series on returning adult college students is that American higher education is still largely designed for people who can really focus on school in a sustained way. And yet more and more people find it hard to get that kind of space and time in their lives to do it.
College often seems like something you have to leave the real world to go do instead of something that truly fits in as an activity that can be done on the side. Which means that as more colleges announce plans to try to attract returning college students, they should listen to the students they’re trying to serve and better understand their complicated stories.