It’s official: I have to start the dialogue about the whole college thing. I’ve been feeling a certain way about it for sometime, and I’m ready to formulate some thoughts on it.
This post is inspired by fellow Matadorian Candice Walsh’s piece called 9 reasons not to go to college. It was a brilliant piece outlining reasons not to follow the traditional trajectory of success that many Americans do of flocking to University right out of highschool. Interesting bit: The United States has nearly $1-trillion dollars of student loan debt. How is there not a serious outrage over this? I am shocked, disgusted and about ready to start a revolution.
I’m currently overseas and have been discussing, among other interesting cultural differences from the U.S., the way we approach education vs. other countries. I’m currently staying with a family that is also hosting a couple from France. Natasha graduated from “traditional” University with almost no debt (University in France is virtually free. Her tuition with books was less than $1,000 euros/academic year.) Alex went to a “trade” program for engineering which was equally inexpensive. Both of them completed internships (Natasha in Western France, Alex in Germany) before traveling to Australia. What’s interesting about this couple is that neither of them are in debt $50,000 or $100,000 like many people I know. Instead of panicking to find a job in their field to pay off a huge debt, one that looms over your head and threatens to ruin and dictate your life at a very early age, they were able to cheerfully pick up and travel the world for a while. Nevermind the euro and the economic crisis is France is border-line Greece-worthy. Ouch.
I’m detecting a trend (I perceive it to be a very positive one) that people in the United States are fed up. In a phone conversation with my mom once, as I aired my grievances about working shitty job after shitty job, she admitted (somewhat frighteningly) that she is losing faith that college was ever a good idea. All of her daughters who attended are struggling one way or another. Perhaps a college education wasn’t the “golden ticket” our parents’ generation thought it would be.
I have friends that have found ways around paying their student loans, most of them sad, but true. Of them include going back for more education (in turn accruing more debt, eventually settling to sell one’s soul to the world of academia to pay it off), and filing for unemployment as long as possible to put the loan in deferment. Who can bear to live another day flipping burgers when a student loan bill comes in month after month for $500? That’s more than rent in most places!
In Australia, tuition for college rarely exceeds $10,000/academic year. Instead of having to pay off a monumental debt akin to a nasty credit card debt, Australian’s see about one percent of their paychecks go toward student loan debt. What’s fascinating is that the amount that is taken is on a vacillating scale: if you are earning peanuts, the gov’t takes much less. Once you begin to earn more money, you pay more. Sort of a SMART, sliding scale theory. Adopted from the British. Good on you, mates.
I’ve been lucky that my student loan was minimal. Somehow I had this idea when trying to choose a school that the more prestigious and expensive the University to grant me a piece of paper (which I don’t even know where it is. How about that?), the better off I would be. Maybe that was true at a time for people from old money. Luckily my smart parents talked me out of that. Phew, dodged that bullet. Now I only set aside $82/month for my student loan debt. Laughable to some. Still a pain in the ass reminder every month, though, that I’m paying for an education with a job I didn’t even go to school for.
How can we turn this around? Discourage kids from getting an education? No. I think college afforded me some valuable experiences, but none more than social and personal growth. Yes, I did learn to write term paper after term paper. Yes, I did read some of Literature’s greats. In hindsight, I wish I would have seen college’s most valuable offering: Networking. I didn’t bother to networking nearly enough. I rarely speak to anyone I even knew in college, in fact. How’s that for an education?
We need to redefine what getting an education means. Walsh points out different alternatives to attending University, all of them better than the next. Everyone should take time to travel. That’s a given and something people don’t do enough. The experience you can gain by traveling the world will make you savvy and able to survive, make contacts and valuable relationships around the world, both professionally and personally.
Also, trade schools are another great idea. Why commit to a rigid and strict 4 year program when 2 years of that is essentially courses you have no interest in taking (ie: Gen Eds)? My friend Kelly attends film school in Burbank, California and it’s the perfect storm: 14 months of intensive coursework 3 days a week, a tight-knit group of classmates (who will eventually become colleagues and valuable contacts later on) without all the beaurocratic riffraff of University life. Get in, get it done, get out, get a job. That should be the name of the game!
Developing an entrepreneurial mindset is something I’ve strived to achieve this year. I’ve started bit by bit, and hope to become a self-sufficient earner. Nobody in University teaches you about finances or generating income. Hardly was there even a time we discussed getting a job in the “real world.” We just practiced different techniques of the real-world in a bubble. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I grew up with Microsoft Word. Perhaps the most engaging and memorable experiences in college were class discussions where we were able to have an open forum of idea exchange. Why should that have to cost so much money? I could have just as easily attended book club at a local cafe once a week. Gulp.
I watched a documentary about the visionary genius Steve Jobs. He dropped out of college. He went on a LSD pilgrimage to India instead. And he was one of the most successful and creative people of our time. If you have a good idea, pursue it. Then market the hell out of it. Become your own spokesperson. Demand the respect and attention you deserve. Don’t pay $100,000 for it, then work a shitty job to pay back the government for putting you in this pickle in the first place.
I guess if I could do college all over again, I would. But I’d certainly want to have a clearer idea of what I wanted to accomplish. I would make more valuable connections. I would have….waited a few years, to be honest. Who knows what they want when they are 18? I mostly cared about scoring booze and securing my first apartment. I certainly wasn’t thinking about my “financial future.”
Words of wisdom: Take some time off between high school and college to travel. Find something you’re good at it. If you can make money doing it honestly, keep pursuing it. If you feel the need to go to University, get a grant or find a program that will finance it for you. Believe in me, you won’t be happy to be getting those huge loan bills in the mail every month. Redefine your idea of success. Start now and you won’t be sorry.
Am I just a rabble-rouser? Or are these real issues?
3 comments on “Miffed by the University Myth”
I really enjoy your honest take on this topic, and as someone who went to a private Liberal Arts school and now works for one, I can agree on many points. However, I do firmly believe that getting through college has a developmental impact on many students (and I’m not alone! There’s a whole discipline surrounding College Student Development Theory) and it’s very possible that the maturity you possess now is ultimately from being forced to grow up relatively quickly.
Student loans are ridiculous, and like you, I am one of the lucky ones. But part of that is because I wanted it so bad and I worked for scholarships, became an RA, and worked a campus job. Then I did tons of research as to how I could use my experience to go to graduate school for free, which I did. I may be naive, but I think there are plenty of resources out there to at least aid in the cost of education. And I am hesitant to deny that there is a definite importance on having a degree in our country presently. You may not be using your degree in your current line of work, but having a degree, any degree, is better than nothing. You have the life skills needed for a certain job, and they can assume you are trainable.
I’m really not saying any of this to debate or fight. I just wanted to have an open exchange of ideas 🙂
Believe me, I don’t consider your comment a debate. I really like to open up the floor for discourse!
I don’t think it’s naive to think that there are opportunities to finance your education. But lots of people don’t know such options are available and/or aren’t willing to do the legwork to get their education financed.
Like I said, if I could do it again, I certainly would. I think I developed a lot of skills I wouldn’t have ordinarily and have been able to get some opportunities that I might not have otherwise gotten. It does feel good in an introductory email or cover letter to mention that I’ve earned a double degree. I think that has a certain positive connotation.
Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value. Jim Rohn