Think College Is Worth It? Think Again!

Although there are a lot of people in the US who still seem to be living under a rock when it comes to realizing the increasing worthlessness of college degrees, still spitting out the standard beliefs about going to college, there’s a lot of focus on the “education crisis” in the US, i.e. the student loan crisis. The unemployment and underemployment rates among recent college graduates, the amount of debt, the number of graduates defaulting on student loans because they can’t afford to pay, the threat of interest rates going up on federal government student loans.

I’ve mentioned that I have so much debt from student loans that I, like a lot of fairly recent graduates, live at home with my parents. I’ve also mentioned that I attended Michigan (Ann Arbor), which has a reputation as a school with a lot of wealthy kids. I’ve had (in the context of sports) haters throw this in my face, and I’ve seen and heard people talk about Michigan peeps in this type of way just generally. There was recently an article over at annarbor.com that, perhaps indirectly, depicted Michigan in this way and got a lot of comments from people with that haterade “rich kids” flavor.

Michigan nearly costs like an Ivy League school does even for in-state students, which is probably some of the reason why people think everyone who attends Michigan is rich. It is, for all intents and purposes, a private school. The academics are up there with private schools, as is the prestige. The university receives very little of its money from the state of Michigan–less than 2%, last I heard. I started wondering why Michigan isn’t a private school, as I certainly believe it should be, and I guess I wasn’t the only one because I was present when someone actually asked one of the deans, I believe, why Michigan doesn’t just go private. The answer was basically that the state constitution would have to change, and this would likely not get that kind of support.

After reading this, my guess is that Michigan is not the only university in the state that hardly gets anything from the state. I can’t see any other reason for why people in Michigan would attend schools that are far less elite than Michigan is and leave with the amount of debt that they are. Frankly, Michigan isn’t even worth the debt with which many of the students in these two articles are leaving lesser undergraduate schools. Us Michigan peeps love our school in a way that I really have never seen with other schools, so Michigan can get plenty of money from alumni. These other schools in the state of Michigan, though, are likely having to charge way more than they’re worth to make up for what the state isn’t giving them without the same kind of alumni dollars, and the kids who attend these schools are coming out with a ridiculous amount of debt because of it.

Personally–and, sorry, the intent seriously is not to sound snooty or elitist–when I see Eastern Michigan and Wayne State resulting in $80,000-100,000 worth of debt, presumably just for undergraduate studies, I wonder why anyone in his or her right mind would do it.  I wouldn’t do it for Michigan undergraduate (though I did do it for Michigan graduate school, which is a different story), and I certainly wouldn’t do it for Eastern Michigan. Much to my relief, some of the people in that second article above actually say they wouldn’t do it again. The people who say they’d do it again, with all due respect, are clearly on crack.

Would Do It Again?

Um, in terms of college–forget graduate school–I definitely wouldn’t. I have tried, with much success, to forget how much debt I had upon graduating from college. I think somewhere around $40,000, and that’s because my parents borrowed some in their own name. To me, if you go to a private school–and I’m talking about an elite one–this should be your max. With public schools, I’d say you should leave with about half the amount of debt, maybe $25,000, unless it’s one of the public Ivies like a Michigan or a Cal-Berkeley, UCLA, UVA or UNC (in which case, $40,000 or so). Otherwise, going to college isn’t worth the hassle.

Why Do I Feel This Way?

Well, let’s just take me, for example.

College–The Pros

My college experience was kind of backwards. I enjoyed it academically, but that’s about it. Actually, I really loved it academically, especially once it became more about taking the courses I wanted to take. I loved going to class and discussing literature, and I loved hearing what people had to say in social science classes. I am very intellectually well-rounded because of college. I know something about almost everything.

And my degree has come in handy a couple of times. More accurately, my degree came in handy in getting my latest job, and the school I attended came in handy on my first full-time job after graduation. I was actually just talking to my mother about this. I found out that pretty much everyone I work with has some kind of formal education in information technology or computer science. I’m the only one who doesn’t. My mother said, “Wow. You must have really impressed somebody.” Thinking back on the job interview, I’d say so.

There are two owners, and one of them has an IT background. When I interviewed with him, he asked me several questions about networks to gauge my knowledge. I was able to answer all of those questions correctly, and he seemed impressed that I could–probably because my education has absolutely nothing to do with computers. He commented on this, but he framed it as a positive. He wondered at why there are so many people out there with liberal arts degrees who really just take to IT, and then he did something most employers should do sometimes but don’t–he looked at what I studied in college (psychology and English) and [correctly] saw how those studies could help in his business, i.e. the critical thinking, problem solving and speaking skills that someone with my background should have. He mentioned these skills and commented that I have the kind of voice that he is looking for while bringing up another interviewee who obviously knew his tech stuff but couldn’t speak that well. I would also think that, since there is a people-interaction element to my job, he saw how a psych background could help with that, too. More on this in a second.

With my first full-time job, my employer had, what I think of as, a very immigrant way of thinking (and he is an immigrant). He blatantly looked down on people whom he assumed were unintelligent and were working menial jobs for him because they weren’t trying to better themselves. When he realized that I’d graduated from a really good college whose name he respects, it changed our entire relationship. He treated everyone else like crap. With most employers, you can’t really tell them that your ambition is to leave them for something better at some point, but this guy loved hearing it and is more than willing to help me with just about anything at this point. Immigrants really seem to respect people who are willing to start on the bottom and work their way up without complaining and get their education, especially Asians and Africans. They don’t question it the way Americans do, because Americans feel entitled to skip the bottom in any way they can. More on this in a second.

College–The Cons (In Addition To Debt)

I don’t really think I can come up with too many ways in which college prepared me for work. At this point, the idea that you go to college in order to get a job or get a well-paying job is completely ludicrous, and not just because college no longer results in either of these things anymore. It’s because college has very little to do with work.

Point taken about my current employer making the connection between my studies and my potential as an employee in an unrelated field. I think it can be a valid connection. Unfortunately, most employers don’t. And they won’t bother trying to make the connection, which is why social science and humanities majors have a hell of a time finding work after graduation. When I really think about what a social science or humanities major does in college, I have to say that, for most people, it probably isn’t a valid connection…or at least not reliable enough to regularly base hiring decisions on it. You don’t know who partied their way through school and aced their English degree just because English is a very easy subject to them. You don’t know who was in classes or at universities where professors just give grades, engage in grade inflation or grade on the curve. In short, you don’t know if the person actually came away with the skills you’d think someone would gain by earning a degree in a particular discipline, and you don’t know who knows how to use those skills outside of the classroom. This is why employers emphasize work experience more than anything else now.

Although I’m touching specifically on social science and humanities, I would also say–despite what a lot of people believe–this goes for pretty much anything you can study in college. For example, last I heard, nursing was one of the “in demand” fields in terms of jobs after graduation. So, a few years ago, I took a look at some of the job listings for nursing positions. I also looked at ads for another “good” field, accounting. Both of these fields’ listings pointed to the logical principle of “necessary but not sufficient,” i.e. a degree is necessary but not enough for getting these jobs. The majority of the listings were not for recent graduates–they were for people with a year or more of experience in nursing or accounting. My brother-in-law went back to school to get an accounting degree, and, so far, it has been as worthless as my psychology degree has been because he lacks accounting work experience.

Beyond skills, there’s subject matter. I learned a lot in college, but how much of it is useful on the job? I’ve found that most of what I learned in college is only good for great conversations with people. Unless you are going into a specialized field, there is nothing you can learn in college that you will need in the work world. For most of us, everything we need to know is supposed to be learned before high school graduation. That’s why I don’t understand this:

If we make college unaffordable, we’re going to be a poorer state. Have a poorly educated state and you will have a poorer state.

Having a poorly-educated state is about people leaving high school poorly educated, which is definitely the case nationwide. I will readily admit that I learned many useful things in college in terms of the world and people. But you can learn these things by…well, living and looking around and thinking about what you hear and see. And a lot of people seem to view technology as the bad guy and as something that contributes to making our youth even more ignorant. As a tech geek, I can’t help but see the good in technology. Because of the internet, you can find out just about anything you want to know. It’s all about how you use it, and some academics understand that…which is why you see some of them using technology in the classroom. I could read the same great literature I read in college on my Kindle app and participate in book club meetings to get the discussions I had in college. As I’ve written before, young people are stupid nowadays because parents and schools are failing them. It starts way before college, and college does nothing to fix it.

The fact that I’m the only one in my current position who doesn’t have an academic IT background actually just furthers my thinking that I don’t need one. Of all the people who do anything technical at my place of employment, I think only one or two of them has any sort of degree anyway–the others just have some schooling. There are people who say you need some kind of degree in the IT field, and there are people who say you need an IT-related degree. But it seems this is true only for some employers, and it seems true if you want to make more money or to get a bit of an edge on someone for some positions. Is it worth $50,000+ of debt? Personally, it’s not–especially when you consider that $50,000 in student loans works out to losing more than just $50,000, even if you’re only talking about interest. If push comes to shove, I can always go back and get an IT degree…after I actually have some money of my own from working, not money I borrow. But at least it’s a decision I’m not making as some dumb kid who doesn’t know any better and while I’m too young to really know what I want to do with my life–another problem I have with college. Adults should attend college, not teenagers.

The point I made about Americans feeling entitled to skip the bottom–this hurts recent college graduates a lot, and it also goes back to the point I made about how it’s crazy to think college gets you a job. People think going to college will allow them or their kids to skip the bottom. Nowadays, not only does it not allow people to skip the bottom, but it can make it very hard to even get a job on the bottom just because of the mentality that college allows people to skip the bottom. In other words, going to college instantly makes people “overqualified” for a lot of jobs while they’re still not qualified for any other jobs.

If you go to an immigrant employer, they’re not going to talk this “overqualified” nonsense. They will love you. But American employers won’t because they haven’t figured out that they dismiss degrees and over-value them at the same time. They think, “We’re not going to hire this recent college graduate because he doesn’t have the experience, but someone else will definitely hire him.” They don’t get that every other white or black American is thinking exactly the same way he/she is, as if employers in the US don’t all, more or less, do things in similar ways. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten that “you’re not good enough for us because you only have a degree, but you’ll be good enough for someone else because you have a degree from a good school” bit. Until I got lucky with the immigrant employer, I never was good enough for “someone else.”

If I could choose again, I’d just skip all of this confusion and debt and go directly from high school to the bottom of the work world. I ended up having to start on the bottom anyway, six figures of debt later, so…[shrugs]. One of my sisters basically told me that she is not going to make her kids go to college because of what she has seen with me. In other words, if they don’t want to go, no big deal. I agree with this. Save your kids’ financial future. If they can’t get a scholarship, work their way through college (which most colleges are too expensive to do) or have you afford to foot the bill, there’s no sense in borrowing tons of money.

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