Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Note to Self: When You Go to College, Double Down

"Can't Do Nothin' Thout No College"

I've been holding on to Adam Davidson's New York Times article, The Dwindling Power of a College Degree, for a while now. It's a subject that's important to me because I've been in a very dangerous limbo stage pertaining to higher education, for too long. The article basically says, this is fast becoming an economy driven by specialization. (That particular type of economy may already be here, hence the U.S.'s possibly forthcoming financial troubles, "the next debt bomb," as they say.)

The point of the article is that it's becoming harder to skate by in life on simple credenttials, with an unimpressive degree. Our cultural attitude is becoming what Rick Santorum would probably call snobbish. I'm apt to agree, though I'm agreeing in a far different tone. I would be elated at the prospect of a country full of hoity-toities, if only it wasn't to our detriment. We're moving entirely too fast. In the long run, let's say a hundred years from now, the speed might not matter so much, but the problem is we're operating right now. How can we affect a change, that doesn't topple our economy, right now?

My story goes, the kid (me) gets to the university, with stars in his eyes, prepared to live the college life, but unprepared for what that entails. New singer, old song. There's no overt blame to place on the way the system is run, most of my problems were personal. I'm pretty sure if everyone went to college and followed a strict plan they'd be 'in and out' in no time. I didn't follow that plan, went in and prematurely came right back out. Now I'm facing many more problems than before: I'm buried up to my neck in student loans, it's more than difficult for me to get a job, and it's not any easier for me to get back in school to get my degree. Life's hard and the sad part about it is, at least right now, all I can do is live through it.

"I Thought The Cold War Was Over"

This student loan "debt bomb" thing is outrageous, The Real Meaning of $1 Trillion in Student Loans. I agree with Jordan Weissman, one trillion dollars in student loans very well may be "a sign, partly, that more students are going to college," but I believe there should a big emphasis on the word partly. There might be more important factors going into the boom in student loan debt.

One of these factors is the rising cost in tuition: Mississippi, California.

Students have to do more to pay for tuition. Hold down a couple of jobs while studying. Things I was told about consistently while I was in school. " So-and-So is a mother and she works part-time at a pharmacy while going to school", "Whatsit-Whosit works full-time at Wal-Mart, took a year off, and still went back to school--two years, then four years--for a degree in psychology" etc. etc. There are a number of them, mostly the lady folk--as if they have anything to prove*, but they're only a few of the nearly 2 million graduates a year (2,350,000 enrollees). What's the story after they graduate? Or the story of the ones that don't graduate? Mine is above.

Second the cutting off of aid to college goers: Is HOPE on or off? Not without mentioning, the difficulty involved in attaining aid if it's out there.

Then after we get through with that we can consider the good news of more students attending post secondary school, which I'm sure is caused by the culture change Adam Davidson talks about in his New York Times article.

The very fact that the culture is changing and more importantly how it's changing, is a big problem. The reason more high school graduates are making the decision to go to college is most likely because of our over arching cultural conditioning. Davidson talks about the increase in productivity at jobs with a dwindling need for workers.  The fact that there are fewer total jobs out there isn't helpful. It doesn't take as many employees as it use to to create and run a billion dollar business. Specialization moves us toward this. We saw it through the Industrial Revolution and continue to talk about it today regarding the billion dollar, consumer supported tech companies.

Specialization, by it's very nature means there won't be as many positions out there to supply the growing need for jobs, and/or, there at least won't be enough people to fill the positions. If our economy is supported by these types of jobs, shouldn't it be obvious why the recession hit so hard? Also, specialization entails a difficulty in obtaining the credentials. Now, of course, anyone who sets their minds to it, can accomplish anything, but that doesn't mean everyone will. This new cultural evolution, as well meaning as it may be, values quality while preaching a quantitative message. We feel college education is the pinnacle of success, but the problem with that is we send our kids through this academic bottle-neck all willy-nilly because of these values/ideals. We seem to be all dreams with no substance. Not good at all.


I believe this thing is a little bigger than facts and figures. Sometimes, when we overload on numbers and forget to add nuance to the information, we render data useless. Just a bunch of numbers on a screen.

But if I ever get another shot at a college education, I gotta remember to double down.

*Women are historically smarter than men. I'd write more, but you know, nuff said.

[Edit/add: Another article on student loan debt--Student Loans Weighing Down a Generation With Heavy Debt - NYTimes.com, and 5 important fact from said article--5 mindblowing facts about student debt. | ThinkProgress.]

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