Naivna vera u visoko obrazovanje
U Kini sam upoznao Majkla Vilijamsa iz Amerike, koji je vrlo brzo postao moj najbolji prijatelj u toj zemlji. On mi je ispričao o svojim razlozima da napusti Sjedinjene Države, prvenstveno zbog problema sa studentskim dugom o kojem, kao i o ostalim američkim dugovima, mi ovde dosta slušamo ali nismo sigurni kako to zapravo izgleda. Pošto je on ujedno i pisac u usponu, sastavio je jedan tekst o toj temi i ja ga uz njegovu dozvolu ovde prenosim.
Wanting to achieve: A Naïve Belief in Higher Education
I wish it were not the case, but the next best alternative to the university crisis will, in time, suffer from the same fate of bloated false value and meager to nonexistent employment opportunities for the graduates. Essentially, the community college system, at its core, is the profession high school hierarchy, but with the same Achilles heel as the failing university system in the United States.
Wanting to achieve: A Naïve Belief in Higher Education
The contents of this short work are a compilation of personal experiences, light research and opinions of what I have seen, read and lived. Despite references to the reader, it is not meant to be a guide to live your own life, but rather a window into the struggles of a person similar to yourself. My words are meant to express how I feel about the educational system, what I have experienced in that system and what I see others struggling with in a similar position. This short piece is also a call to myself and what I wish I had done differently regarding my education. I am lost and this is a love letter to the path that led me to ruin.
Part I: Solemn Confession
I graduated from an undergraduate program over one year ago. Since that time, I have not progressed in life in any perceivable manner. I do not have a career. I do not own a new car. I cannot even consider buying a home, condominium or any other type of housing anywhere in this country or any other. If I needed a loan, even a small one, I could not qualify, even with a co-signer. I do not wish to mention the harassment I receive from debt collectors, instigated by my idiotic thought of self-betterment. I am worse off than ever before and the culprit of my misery is the fact that I attended a university.
As all young people, I dreamed of being moderately successful. I thought the future would hold a career that if not rewarding in itself, would provide me the funds to pursue happiness in my private life. In addition, as most young people, I was indoctrinated to the thought that only a university degree could provide such a future to those of us who could attend and finish the illustrious task. This was my downfall. This inception of thought brought on a disastrous situation that I am incapable of correcting or otherwise leaving in my past. This damming guided choice of mine has left me in a most precarious of conundrums in regard to my lifelong financial stability and living standards.
The youth of the nation would do well to consider alternate means to acquire that so desired life, absent of impossible struggles. Please, read and avoid allowing similar victimization by a system waiting to consume your ignorance in the form of compounding interest.
Part II: The Problem
Universities are Forced on Youth
Four year universities are often forced on youth. This occurs subconsciously as well as directly through differing types of media and social channels. I am sure that most everyone has seen the commercials promoting online degrees, emphasizing that a university degree will improve your life immeasurably and you can get one without even leaving your room. In addition, television programs and films targeted for youth push the idea of university as a necessity (look for these references in pop culture, even in TV meant for elementary age children.). Educators implant the idea of a university education in the classroom with a conviction that more students need to participate in the university system (I know my high school teachers did this. Perhaps you remember this as well or are experiencing it in school currently.). Furthermore, People are baited to believe that they must attend universities to become leaders and live better lives. Unfortunately, most of this is propaganda feeding into a machine that is making victims of the youth in North America.
The indoctrination that a university degree is required to live well is implanted at the primary stages of life and has formed a culture focused on mindless flocking to so-called educational centers. In return for their loyal obedience to this dynamic, young people are given crushing debts, little to no true education and a fancy bit of paper they can keep in the bathroom for emergencies. University is a trick, a farce that many of us fall for, unable to see the puppeteers pulling our strings.
A four year degree is not always the answer and our society needs to reflect that. Not everyone is a leader or an academic and that is OK. Society needs people at all levels of expertise and not only an endless pool of bachelor’s degrees in English, journalism and design. Break the cycle, do not fall victim to the pressures of society. Take on a trade through a community college or an apprenticeship. Avoid falling into the black hole of the U.S. university system.
The most prominent and crippling of issues regarding higher education is the cost. Its perceived face value has outgrown its true intrinsic value on the job market. Given my own experiences, a bachelor’s degree has zero value toward attaining gainful employment. Yes, even those degrees that are often advertised as the degree that will get you hired have no value (I am referring to Business Administration and Accounting degrees.).
The cost of school has been rising for decades. Twenty years ago, a young person could attend and complete a university program for the cost of a decent used car. Today, I attended one of the cheapest schools in the region and with my degree came nearly $50,000 of debt.
Furthermore, as the true value and bargaining power a degree may hold declines, the perceived market value rockets to unimaginable heights. To display this in real terms I will use the tuition costs I endured during my time at university. My very first semester, in 2007, cost $2500 for a full class load. By contrast, my final semester at the same school, in 2011, cost over $4000 for the same class load. The price nearly doubled in only five years and continues to grow at an ever-increasing pace.
To place perspective on the matter, that was the cost of a little known school in a small city. Imagine now the costs for students of bigger schools, who must pay ten or twenty thousand dollars each semester for classes alone. When will the cost reach a ceiling, a maximum volume? Or, better yet, when will the cost mirror the value?
Given that this is the current state of things, why do we accept tuition costs at their unjustly inflated rates? I am not just referring to students in this question of applied apathy, but the parents and grandparents as well. Why are we allowing our offspring to drown in debt and fight against impossible odds? How is this acceptable?
If this is not reason enough to omit university from future plans, read on and discover that cost is merely the tip of this academic iceberg, set to sink your future before it begins.
Funding Cuts to Universities
Education is what shapes the future of our nation. How often do politicians, the media and members of the general population promptly declare this statement or a similar rendition of it? Then, in all their wisdom, these people completely ignore the necessary funding for the educational system to shape our nation in a way this not only meaningful, but also progressively useful to society.
Despite the lack of funding, the educational system is a successful tool for shaping a nation. For a very long time our accredited “American” education has been inspiring obedience and general drone behavior. That is the reality of unfunded schools. Students learn to sit down, shut-up and, if they are lucky, perhaps they will learn to read and write at some level. Learning to think, innovate and invent comes with a price tag and believe you me, in our “advanced” society, it costs much more than the fifty-thousand I paid for my lackluster undergraduate degree.
This rapid dissemination of educational funding is a direct culprit to the personal cost and inflated value (counterfeit face value) of a university education. As funding becomes more scarce so does true learning in universities nationwide. Furthermore, with apathetic professors and a nonexistent support staff, schools are running inefficiently and are losing sight of their purpose as educators. In sum, Schools are becoming less about the education and more about the money or rather the lack thereof.
No Jobs and I Mean None
Being the proud owner of a university degree will not get you a job. I should know; I have been trying to get one for over a year now. As a fresh college graduate you will become well versed in the art of resume drafting and cover letter writing. You will write hundreds if not thousands of these one-page documents. In return for your technical literary effort, you will receive thousands of rejection letters to desecrate your ego and sense of self-worth. Are you depressed yet? You will be.
There are many tricks employers use to deny you access to that job you so desperately need to start chipping away at that mountain of debt. They (job creators, or are they job destroyers?) will use administrative tricks and impossible requirements to weed you out and dub thee valueless in the eyes of their corporate structure.
Of my favorite reasons to be unemployed, lack of experience tops the charts. Oh yes, I should have been working professionally in my field the entire time that I was trying to become educated in that field. This is a wonderful excuse for employers to toss your application aside because it is an impossible issue for an individual to correct.
Lack of experience brings me to my next point of unemployment. Internships, where you are sort of employed, but not really because you do not get paid and still have to pay off loans, make rent and feed yourself while fulfilling your intern responsibilities. It sounds and feels a bit like slave labor. Employers, who would never consider giving away their time for free, expect and demand that you do so. In addition, if anything of value comes from your worthless slave hands, the credit is theirs and theirs alone. The employer is your dominus and you are the gladiator to bravely win glory for their house at the expense of your flesh.
Being overqualified is my next most favorite reason to be rejected. You guessed it, having a degree has actually shrunken your possible job prospects. It is now more difficult to get a job as a waiter, bus boy, hotel maid, store clerk or any other similar occupation. Thus, as a graduate you are now barred from jobs that I wish it were not the case, but the next best alternative to the university crisis will, in time, suffer from the same fate of bloated false value and meager to nonexistent employment opportunities for the graduates. Essentially, the community college system, at its core, is the profession high school hierarchy, but with the same Achilles heel as the failing university system in the United States.
Finally, not having the correct education to match their expectations is another commonly witnessed excuse of rejection. I am not referring to an English graduate being dismissed for a job as an architect. Obviously, an architect requires specific skills and knowledge that an English major would not possess. However, working as a secretary, retail store supervisor, fast food shift manager, office assistant, mail-room clerk, and a great many more semi-professional jobs do not require specific education from a certified institution in order to be competently performed. All of these careers can be learned to a proficient level through on the job training.
Most semi-professional positions can be performed quite well by any college graduate and in some cases individuals with only high school on their transcript could appropriately perform in the role. However, why pay to train an employee when an employer can save money by demanding that the prospective employee pay a ridiculous sum of money to another institution to be “trained” specifically for that type of position? It helps them (the job demolishers) to avoid investing in you as an asset. I imagine that I cannot be the only one who feels that businesses are acting selfishly in this dynamic.
As you can see, jobs are not waiting for college graduates. The opportunities are shrinking and the “qualified” labor force is increasing at an alarming rate. Meanwhile, our lives and responsibilities are not put on hold, but building into catastrophic elements of our lives that will consume our future.
No Ability to Pay
You will never be able to pay back the debt. Even if you eventually get a job, your debt will have swollen with late fees and interest to a point where it is not possible to repay. Furthermore, the current trend of shrinking wages makes repayment an impossible feat, even for those lucky enough to find work after graduation. The ugly truth is that an undergraduate degree is not worth the time, the money, or the effort and employers reflect that fact in their unwillingness to pay wages that will empower graduates to clear their debt.
Directly related to the above section, the lack of quality jobs for graduates is the number one reason for debt deferment and the next catastrophic economic bubble stemming from student debt. The average bill I have received for my growing student debt is $400 for the federal debt and $600 for the private debt. This is a grand total of about $1000 per month. When I was working I made approximately $800-$1200 a month with a rent of $600 per month. In other words, I could not afford even a fraction of the minimum payments. Even if I paid the absolute minimum of 10% of my income, repayment would take me over 200 years. Not to mention that if I paid only 10% of my income at the above rate, I would have to pay over $250,000, if the interest rate held at 6% the entire time. Essentially, I will never pay off the debt no matter how hard I work or how much I desire to be free of it.
I have not paid a single cent to my student loans thus far. The reason for that is not that I have chosen to simply not pay, but that I completely lack the ability to do so. I wish that I could repay my loans and have a clean slate on which to live out the rest of my life, but I cannot. The debt just grows as I watch it overflow and flood my future with despair and poverty. The unchained debt is raining down ruin upon my credit score and capability to ever escape this pit. It is a psychologically damaging and physically painful experience of stress and disbelief that my life was over before it began.
Self-Doubt and Depression
Are you or have you ever experienced extreme self-doubt or depression? Go to a university and finish an undergraduate program. I can promise you that afterward you will feel both of these emotions. You will wake in the morning to a sluggish and groggy sensation of defeat. You will (if you are extremely lucky) attend a job below your level of education in a zombified state of resentment for the hell that is your life. You will then return home (if you still have the luxury of one) and consume a meal with little to no nutritional value. When the hours become long, you will lie down and feel the titanic weight of doubt and fear slam into your consciousness, preventing even a single moment of restful sleep. This will be the pattern of your life. Once you fall behind by taking on unplayable debt, there is no getting ahead in life, no matter how hard you work.
That is what I deal with most every day. Many days I wish to give up entirely, to simply stop and wither from existence. The doubt builds daily and my self-worth plummets to new lows nightly. The debt only grows and the jobs continue to disappear. I have yet to make a single payment on my student loans. I lack the money and with every passing day my ability to earn shrivels as the irrelevance of my degree swells with time.
Since graduating, my health has deteriorated rapidly. For the first time in my life, I have high blood pressure, unexplained chest pains and random intense migraines. The stress of having such a debt following me to the end of time is essentially killing me. This is doubly worrisome as I lack healthcare due to the cost. I have found that the depression following graduation quickly evolves into physical aliment coupled with the emotional handicap of intense depression.
Thus, save your sanity and your nerves. Do not attend a university. Do not waste your youth and credit score. Do not bar yourself from the workforce with credentials that lack meaning or value. Save yourself the trouble and the worry. Stay out of predatory schools.
Part III: Alternatives
Professional High Schools
Recently, I read an article claiming that a particular law firm in New York state would only hire college graduates, for any position. This included positions in the mail room that the article claimed to pay a mere $10 per hour. These jobs are among those in a previous section that I wholeheartedly stated and believe to require no degree at all. However, this is a huge problem in our society, college degrees are the new high school diploma (a very costly diploma) and as a result, the value of owning one has plummeted.
We know the problem, but how can we fix it? In other countries, specifically in western Europe, a professional high school system is in place. The idea behind these schools is to educate youth to perform semi-professional jobs with only their high school diplomas.
Professional high schools are separated by industrial sector. Car mechanics, construction workers and general laborers attend one school, nurses and other medical aides attend another and academically apt students attend yet another school as they prepare for the rigorous European college experience. This system allows for students to learn based on their aptitudes and develop respective careers.
Before you begin to scream communism, children are not forced into any specific schools. The young people choose their educational experience based on what they enjoy and which schools they are academically capable of completing. I do not know about you, but to me it sounds much more promising than our no child left behind lump education, based on ignoring student needs and selling them into higher education upon graduation.
The professional high school system allows for students who lack the drive or ability to perform academically to still find a career that suits them versus being just another underachieving student that gets lost in the motions of our failing educational system. I know that our high schools offer shop classes and home economics. However, these are often single classes and result in nothing more than a generic diploma that all students receive from the institution upon graduation. In the professional high school system, students receive a diploma in carpentry, mechanics, culinary arts or any other of the many fields. Moreover, students graduating from professional high schools boast the credentials of community college graduates without the extra two years of schooling for the incurred cost.
An alternative that will still offend your pocketbook, granted to a much lighter effect, is the community college. This alternative achieves a similar effect to the professional high school system and works without having to make any modifications to our current system. These schools are cheaper and more efficient, injecting skilled employees into the workforce in three years or less with debt that is a mere fraction of that incurred at a university. However, it is not a perfect alternative. There are drawbacks to the community college route as well.
The most appealing fact about community colleges is that they are inexpensive and can be found in metropolitan as well as rural areas alike. First and foremost, a community college will save you at least half the time spent in school and a hefty sum in tuition costs. Most programs can be finished in two years, some in less time, versus the four to six years it will take to finish an undergraduate degree. Furthermore, you will spend approximately 30-60% (depending on the program) of what you would spend on an undergraduate degree. More attractively, a community college degree may improve your employment opportunities beyond what a university degree ever could (Again, depending on the program you choose to enroll in.).
As mentioned above, community colleges are widely available. Many smaller towns boast the residence of one or more community colleges within their city limits. Currently, college is thought of as a time to leave home and grow into adults. That is an antiquated idea meant for a time when money was not so valueless and costs were more controlled. Stay close to home, save ridiculous sums of money in doing so and have your parents around to help if your car dies or simply because they stock the kitchen with something other than day old pizza and cheap soda. There will be plenty of time to go out and be on your own, but in the current state of things, staying within shouting range of the home base is not a bad idea. If you are a parent, get used to your kids staying at home; they were coming back after college anyway.
As I said, there are drawbacks to the community college system. Like the university system, the community college provides a thin spectrum of program choices and they are filling up fast. The respective occupations will someday soon reach maximum capacity rendering associate degrees in everything from culinary arts to welding completely useless. This will happen as everyone who, in their savvy knowledge of jobs in demand, skipped university in favor of community college. The educational trends will shift as community college becomes the new way to “get hired.” This shift is already underway. If you have small children the community college system will likely not be a choice for them as community colleges will become just as overcrowded and unbearably expensive as their university cousins.
Omit University From Your Plans
If at all possible, stop attending school after high school. This sounds terrible, but do not attend post-secondary schools. The education is often worthless anyway. I know that is it hard to omit school from your plans as it is a cultural norm in our society to attend university, but if possible, young people should choose to avoid higher education.
Why do I say this? Why do I think that young people should skip on a university education, other than the many reasons given above? How are these youth expected to achieve and prosper without a degree?
For those of you with these questions, I have answers. I will begin with obvious situational answers and progress to more achievable solutions. To begin, if your family owns a business, work there. Omit school and pour yourself into the business. Believe me, no matter how small the business is, it will always be more rewarding than working for others and it is ultimately yours. This also works if a family friend owns a business, work there; they will treat you better and reward you much more than faceless strangers.
Is your mother or father a supervisor within a company, government worker, or hold some status in any workplace? If so, have them refer you to the organization and hope that you can work there at some level. You will see greater opportunities and if your parent is well liked, people will be inclined to like you as well. For parents, it is hard enough to get a job without your help, so do some good and try to inject your children in the workplace. Do not be lazy or afraid, your children need you to be assertive and proactive.
Finally, do you remember how the fast food restaurant manager is often portrayed as some type of drop out or slacker? Furthermore, do you remember the stressed point that if you do not do the right things with your life, you will end up in such a position? Well, you may wish to rethink that scenario and hope that you can attain such a position. I know a few fast food restaurant managers and they are doing better financially than I ever will. These positions pay wages that I could not get even if I worked within my field of study. In addition, they are hiring. The biggest comeback in employment since the beginning of this unending recession has been in fast food and similar service sectors. Skip the debt and work for these places. You will end up there despite any educational achievements, so why struggle trying to avoid them.
I know that these are not all the most desirable solutions and that we all want to venture out into the world and chase our dreams, but we cannot. Most of us lack the financial means to do so. If you have the option to work with family or friends, do it and never look back. If not, take your pick of despair with debt or despair without debt; it will be the same either way.
Part IV: Conclusions
Not everyone should go to a four year university and earn a bachelor’s degree. In fact, most people should not.
First of all, many programs that young people enroll in are not meant to be a four year degree (I know my own degree had no business as a bachelor’s). Many programs that teach a specific career are training and not truly education. These programs can be taught in one or two years versus being stretched into four to fabricate a university experience from a technical occupation.
Second, universities often teach a narrow spectrum of predigested information meant to be absorbed and regurgitated versus ingested, analyzed and discussed. This is a problem and makes our education a joke versus a vehicle for upward mobility. In my own experience, completing university was as easy if not easier than high school, only with more writing (without the necessity of solid writing skills) and less math.
Finally, as many current university grads are discovering, if everyone has a degree, none of them have any value. In other words, the universities get to say thanks for the $40-200 thousand and in return, here is some toilet paper with writing on it.
We must break away from our naïve belief in higher education!