There’s been a lot of talk about college lately in my life. No, not about me going back to college – I graduated from the University of Iowa 15 years ago and while the idea of being a college student is a utopian dream, I don’t need to go back to college at this point in my life.
No, the talk about college has come from a variety of sources around me. The most irritating lately comes from the woman who sits over the wall from me at work. She has a tendency to irritate me in general – she’s loud where I tend to be more quiet – but she’s also the classic case of an overconfident (dare I say egotistical?) parent who thought her little darling was going to get a sports scholarship and is now finding out that those scholarships are fewer and farther between than she realized. Nearly every day lately this person has spent the majority of her time at work talking to colleges — griping about transcripts and entrance fees; and how is she going to pay for out-of-state tuition so her son can go to the college he really wants? (Oh, and I really want to throttle her when she talks to financial aid people about how her kid has always dreamed of going to this college. The way the college industry sees it, that just means she’s more willing to find ways to pay for this particular college, and probably means the financial people are going to suggest loans with a higher interest rate.)
I have several friends who are going back to college or are talking about going back to college. Many of these friends either have bachelor’s degrees in a field in which they a) can’t find work, or b) no longer want to work. So, what to do, what to do? I’ve got it … let’s go get an advanced degree, or a degree in a different field.
In general, I find to this theory to be counter-productive at my age. We (meaning myself and most of my friends) are in our 30s and 40s now, not our 20s, and with each passing year, the ability to get a “better job” by going back to college decreases. The fact that we have fewer years in which to work means that employers are less willing to hire us, and the fact that people in their 30s and 40s frequently have more than just college debt (house payments, car loans, in some cases kids going to college) means that they can not afford to take on those entry-level jobs in their desired careers.
Today I read a blog post on the popular website “Hello Giggles” that was defending liberal arts degrees. This was a reaction to an article that was written for the blog site “Thought Catalog” titled “The case for removing (almost) all liberal arts from college.”
The author of the article in defense of liberal arts degrees wrote “ … the ‘people’ skills and effective communication that liberal arts majors learn in college are becoming more and more sought-after and useful in careers such as marketing, business, advertisement and other booming industries.”
The author of the article vying for the removal of liberal arts degrees wrote, “If someone can’t handle the STEM majors (science, technology, engineering and mathematics, for those who aren’t familiar with the acronym), they have no business in college.”
These authors both missed the mark. They focused on life after college – finding that all-important career. Oh, yes, it is important, but in reality, it is not the reason to go to college.
“But, yes it is!” Most people proclaim. “The statistics say that college graduates earn 85 percent more in their lifetime than high-school dropouts! The statistics say that 4.5 percent of people with a college degree are unemployed compared with nine percent of people without a degree!”
And those people are correct – but think for a moment. How did you get your first job out of college? What was your first job? Was it or was it not in your degree field?
Today I overheard an editor I work with offering freelance opportunities to an intern that she has been working with for several months. In my own case, my work in my college library lead to my first full-time job, which was in a medical library; my work as a journalism intern led to freelance opportunities.
The key to getting a good job is not getting a good degree, it’s working on getting work. The starting point can often be getting a degree. People who earn liberal arts degrees, and really want jobs in their degree fields, will find them, but the jobs often are not going to be waiting for them the moment they step out the door with their degree in hand. These people need to develop relationships with people in their career fields and gain practical experience.
College is school – and the purpose of school is to get an education. Becoming educated is the reason to go to college. Where else is a person hell-bent on studying modern literature going to learn to love paleontology? Where else would a mathematician take a course called Philosophy and Star Trek? (A true course, offered at the esteemed GeorgetownUniversity.)
School is expensive – there’s no denying that. But even primary and secondary schools cost money to run, and Americans are used to having the government put out money for public schools. According to the latest census, 11 percent of students in the U.S. are enrolled in private school. That means 89 percent of those students are in public school, or in other words, 89 percent of those students expect tax dollars to pay for their education.
Then these same students get to college, and all of a sudden the game changes. They (or their parents) are expected to pay money to gain knowledge? Incredulous! They just spent 12 years in school and nobody expected them to pay anything!
Their parents did pay, in the form of taxes, which is, of course, one of two guarantees in life (the other being death). These taxes paid the teachers’ salaries, the students’ books, the school building and a multitude of things people don’t think about, like light bulbs.
Colleges are great marketers, and they have become increasingly greater marketers in the 15 years since I graduated from the University of Iowa. I got to witness this first-hand in the early 2000s, when I worked (as a secretary, incidentally) at a community college. The first year that I was there, the people who worked in the recruitment office (mainly women) were people with psychology and sociology degrees. Why? Because their backgrounds in psychology and sociology helped them determine what students’ passions were, what they were truly good at doing, would enjoy studying and would make them happier, more well-rounded people. During the two years I worked at this college, nearly the entire recruitment office staff changed hands. Whereas before the recruitment office employees were counselors, now the employees were marketers (and mainly men). The employees that previously had psychology backgrounds now had advertising and marketing backgrounds. Their job was not to find out what people would enjoy studying, but to promote ideas that would get students in the door so the college could make money. These ideas have nothing to do with “being educated,” instead; they have to do with “making money.” Why become a historian when you can become an engineer? Why get an MFA in theater when you can get a Juris Doctor? Engineers and lawyers make money, lots and lots of money, some of which can then, potentially, be given back to the college.
A person becomes a historian because he/she loves history. A theater lover gets an MFA in theater because they love learning about and being in theater. Industry may not care that someone loves theater or history, but the individual does … and after all, isn’t going to college an individual choice, not an industries’ choice?
“It is industry’s choice!” People proclaim. This may be true, but look carefully at the want ads. Many job descriptions say “4-year degree, or applicable experience, required.” That means they are willing to overlook college if someone has experience.
I am not saying do not go to college. I went to college, and I adored it. I spent four blissful years of my life in Iowa City, soaking up theories of journalism, literature, theater, anthropology, and a multitude of other subjects. What I am saying, ultimately, is to realize that college is school – not a job interview.