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Friday, May 18, 2007

College Debt

I saw an article on Yahoo! yesterday that advised parents on what job advice they shouldn't give to their recent college grad kids. One piece of advice was that most parents tell their children to get a job that pays their rent. The Yahoo! columnist said today, kids leave college with so much student debt and earn so little at their entry level jobs, they should move back home for awhile to save money. When I shared this information with my husband he relayed a story from his freshman economics class at a pricey private college. The teacher showed a chart of a student getting a job right out of high school vs a college grad. While the high school grad made less after graduation than the college grad after his, the college grad started out with $120,000 in debt (after attending a $30K a year private college for four years.) The college grad started so far in the hole that it took him until almost retirement to actually earn as much as the high school grad. And this doesn't count the kids who spend six years "deciding on a major" or those who continue on to get a masters or PhD. Honestly, how many people you know are still doing what they went to college for? Is college worth it? I'm beginning to think not. The majority of people spend the majority of their waking hours from the age of 5 to 21 in a classroom. When they graduate college everything changes. I've seen many of my friends falter. The job that sounded so good at 18, that they studied about between parties and liberal arts classes, is a lot different when you spend 40 hours a week at it. Plus, no longer do you have a meal plan and parents pumping you cash on the weekends. You leave college with mountains of debt, a crappy entry level job you soon hate and no idea what to do with yourself. Most people don't return home to save money, they return home because they don't know what else to do. Up to this point everything has been fed to them. It makes me wonder if the reason most people don't question things is because school doesn't teach kids to think for themselves. It just loads them with information to memorize, without context or meaning. A degree used to be special, only a few pursued it and were rewarded. Today, college is expected. Students are taught they'll be homeless losers unless they ace the SATS and go to college. This pressure has created some disturbing trends and what for? While my husband and I are saving for our children's future, we both agree college is overrated. If my daughter wants to get married and have children, I'm not going to force her off to college so she can get a career when all she wants is a family. If my son doesn't want to be a priest, I hope he selects a field that doesn't make him a wage slave for the rest of his life. It's not about pushing my kids to make as much money as possible. Hopefully, they will find mentors or tradesman to help them learn about a field before we commit major moolah to it. Then, if eight months into, say, a photo assistant's position my child decides, photography isn't for them, they he/she moves on and we're not out $30K for a lost year at art college. I had a few good professors but most of what I learned, I learned on my internship and getting a part time job in my field. My husband's degree helped him get a job but everything he does at work now, he taught himself at work. If you want to do social work, try working as a Catholic Worker before getting a degree that will stick you behind a desk with mountains of bureaucratic paperwork while children die. I admire those who go to school to become teachers because they want to help children but maybe, you should just be open to having a large family and then raise them strong in their faith (homeschooling is good too.) There will always be some fields in which a degree is the best way to succeed, however we need be more active in seeking out work through alternate means. I will encourage my child to volunteer or work "in the real world" for at least a year before entering school. 'The Teenage Liberation Handbook", which I believe I've plugged before, offers some great ideas for higher education with additional resources listed.
We've come to value a piece of paper over real learning and the consequence is tons of graduates unable to get by in the real world. Seek knowledge over diplomas, and satisfaction over money and see where that gets us.