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The Doctor Who Never Went to College


A college degree is still pretty special-just 33% of Americans have one. But with total US student debt surpassing $1 trillion and unemployment for recent college grads reaching 9%, is it still worth it?

“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper.”

—Robert Frost

My daughter, Lauren, smart, beautiful, and ambitious, just completed her high school career (at NJ’s top high school) and is moving on to Fordham University in the Bronx this fall. The occasion got me to thinking about Fordham, my family, and college in general.

My grandfather, George A. Sheehan, MD, who was born 125 years ago this week, also went to Fordham. Although he was a great doctor, he never went to college. Born on a Lafayetteville, NY, farm in July 1889, he graduated high school and then went on to earn a medical degree from Fordham Medical School in 1913 (the school closed in 1919).

Education is important in my family. My physician-father (also a Fordham graduate and my grandfather’s medical protégé) called it a key means to success. And except for some rare cases, I think he was right.

I was fortunate. My dad had a busy medical practice around the time I was a college student. He paid the way for pretty much everything. I took out a modest student loan because “a little debt is a good thing,” dad explained. “It makes you work harder.”

That I love my children, there is no doubt in my mind. That I can pay for their education, well … that’s quite another matter. (My son, Kyle, is beginning his junior year at George Washington University in the nation’s capitol.)

Since both my kids are good students who received pretty generous scholarships awards and student loans. Still, with both their annual tuitions clearing the $50,000 mark, I’m having more than few sleepless nights lately. Somehow we’ll get through it, though, and, besides, there’s always the lottery.

A college degree is still pretty special—just 33% of Americans have one, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But with total US student debt surpassing $1 trillion and unemployment for recent college grads reaching 9%, I’m wondering if it’s worth it. There’s growing debate.

According to a recent survey of the Forbes 400 list of billionaires, more than 90% still believe that college is important to success. But Warren Buffett, the greatest investor in history and the holder of undergraduate and graduate degrees, isn’t real hip on college.

Speaking to a group of MBA students, recently, he said, “The best education you can get is investing in yourself. But this doesn’t always mean college. I have 2 degrees but I don’t have them on my wall, in fact I don’t even know where they are. I don’t think college is for everyone. In fact, none of my 3 kids graduated from college.”

I realize that things were different when my grandfather was a student more than a century ago. Perhaps, a high school education was better then and medical school entry wasn’t as competitive as it is today. And, certainly, my grandfather had smarts in general—going on to have a wonderful career as a physician, professor of medicine, mentor, and father of 14.

And I feel better knowing that my grandfather’s (and father’s) spirit will be watching over my daughter as she begins her college life at Fordham.

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