The utility of college is something I find very interesting, and a topic I increasingly like to write about. There are many dimensions to it, many layers, and it’s hard to talk about this without being defensive. I teach college. I can’t very well say that college is pointless. However, I teach college. So I can understand why someone could argue that college is pointless. This comic over here sort of, satirically, addresses the problems with getting certain college degrees. It might be difficult, maybe even impossible, to get a job in the field.
Here are the three strongest statements I hear about college on a regular basis.
Number one is that college is too expensive.
The second is that half the courses you take in college are a waste of time.
The third is that college doesn’t matter when it comes to getting a job.
Number One. I wouldn’t call college too expensive. I would say that it is expensive. I tell everyone how much my college education cost. Fifty thousand dollars. Was it worth it? For me, it was. I learned a lot and I got a job in my field. But, when I first graduated, I didn’t feel that way. I spent months looking for a job and years looking for a good job. I worked part-time teaching and then had another part-time job working at a bookstore. Waking up at 5am, teaching, coming home, eating something that looked like food and then working until midnight killed any joy I had in my Masters degree in Creative Writing.
But, I mean, I decided to get a degree in Creative Writing. I actively made that decision. No one told me to. In fact, a lot of people told me not to. One guy, I forget his name, but I was at a bar drinking, this one guy told me that, if I wanted to write, I should just, you know, write. The idea of getting educated about creative writing seemed to him as insane as being educated to run. If you want to run, run. Why do you need to go to school for it? There is something to be said about the poet that never got an official education, that just read what he wanted and came up with fantastic poetry, untainted by the, uh, taint of colleges and university. Imagine the irony of going to colleges to read from your book of poetry when, in fact, you never attended college.
That’s a myth. It can and has happened, but it is also a myth tied to the American dream. We believe, as Americans, that if you work hard and spend enough time, you can get what you want. We don’t believe, not really, that if you work hard, GO TO SCHOOL, and spend enough time at it, you can get what you want. There is a real sense, especially in the arts and humanities, that a formal education is a waste of time. Add to that the advent of the glorious internet, and it’s hard to justify getting a Masters in Victorian literature. Why study it, my students tend to argue, when I can just Google it and get the damn answers? I don’t, seriously, I don’t think my students, or adults, understand where these answers come from. One of my students asked me, frankly, why he should write a literary analysis of “1984” when he could read all the hundreds of analyses that were all ready written and stored on databases. I asked him if he wanted to have the skills to write an analysis on his own, to have the ability to think critically and to become more open-mined about the world he lived in. He said no. He failed the assignment.
You are responsible for what you do with your life. If you get a degree in History, and can’t get a job, there is no one to blame but you. No one has to create jobs in your field just because you love your field of study. And if you suffer untold hardship because of your decisions, that’s your fault. However, it is also your fault if you get a great job with your History degree. If you find something new about a subject, and become the go-to man or woman about a certain portion of History, then your History degree came in handy, didn’t it? If you get a one million dollar grant to spend a year in some archives in Ireland, it makes your fifty thousand dollar student loans a pretty smart investment, huh?
It’s up to you to pick the degree you want. If you ask me, the guy who has the best job he ever has had, you should get a degree in what you love, not what makes money. Sure, you can get an Accountant degree or become a lawyer or a nurse or a doctor. But if you don’t want to be an accountant, a lawyer, a nurse or a doctor, you are going to hate your life when you get around forty or so. All the money in the world doesn’t make it any easier to go to a job you hate.
College is worth the money if it helps you get a job or makes your life better. College isn’t worth the money if it doesn’t help you get a job or doesn’t make your life better. We forget, too often, that we pay for college and we make the decision to go. No one forced you. If you hate your degree, go to the bathroom and look in the mirror and talk to yourself, because there is no one else you can blame. There are plenty of colleges that advertise themselves as saviors (I’m looking at you, For-Profit colleges). But if I buy a shirt, thinking the shirt is going to help me get a girlfriend, and I don’t get one, who’s fault is that? Mine? Or the shirts? Mine. Because I’m a jerk. If you think college is too expensive, don’t go. Should college be cheaper? Yes. There are plenty of ways to make it cheaper. Going and getting your associates degree first then transferring, going to school in-state. Going to school part-time. But ultimately, we have to be responsible for the decisions we make, especially when it is as massive as going to college.
Next time, we’ll cover Part Two.