Wednesday, October 3, 2012

College Education: Even Riskier Than the Stock Market

Yes, especially in these times, investing in a College Education is even riskier than the Stock Market.
I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, especially due not only to my own circumstances but because of how tough things have been out there.
Let me share My Story (pathway to College):
My grandparents always said “there was something different about me.”
I always had a desire to know more and learn more.  I started learning words rather early.  My practice was not just reading words in a book but looking at and reading the newspaper.
However, my family was a poor one.
I did participate in the Head Start program before going on to 1st grade.
Even my first grade teacher, Mrs. Fountain, said I had “something special.”
Around 3rd grade, it was noted that I had a slight speech impediment, so I had a speech therapist assigned to help me out with that issue.  Children can be a bit cruel, so it was immediately assumed by them that I was slow.
However, a stutter in speech doesn't necessarily mean that the mind stutters, and by the time 7th grade rolled around, I got offered a chance to be a part of the Advanced Placement program, which I accepted.
I skipped Pre-Algebra entirely.  I was taking Algebra in the 8th grade and found it to be one of my favorite subjects.
I was one of the first 9th graders (ever) to take Keyboarding; that class was usually reserved for 10th-12th graders.  It seemed a breeze to me, since I was able to type at 9  years old; all I needed to know was where to place my fingers and which way for them to travel.  I not only excelled in Keyboarding; at times, I was tutoring and helping out my older classmates.
All of my English classes were Advanced Placement.
During senior year of high school, where most people were trying to take a reduced load or easier classes, I was tackling Physics and Calculus, which in my curriculum wasn’t required—one could stop once he took Advanced Biology or Advanced Math/Trigonometry, as well as working a job.  Plus, I was involved in lots of extracurricular activities. 
I guess you could say I was a “go getter”.
In my family, it was a big achievement just to be able to finish high school.  No one in my immediate family ever thought about college.
However, thanks to my teachers and counselors, they presented me with opportunities to apply for programs and participate in things which opened the door for college to be a real possibility.
I was able to go to college on a full scholarship, along with a full Pell Grant as well.  I was the first in the immediate family to do so.
I went out into the world, excited, full of fire, dreams, and aspirations of what my life would be life in college and beyond.
However, no one gives you that “real life talk”, or if/when they do, by that time, it’s too late.
What do I mean by “the real life talk”?
What I mean by that is the following:
1.  Out of all the classes you take related to your major, only a small percentage of what you learn will be utilized.
Yes, you still need to know the principle or foundation of certain types of accounting.  However, if you aren’t going into non-profit accounting, then there’s a course that wasn’t needed.
2.  In some instances, the degree you earned may not be conducive to your current environment.
For example, if you get your degree in Art because you want to become an artist, yet you are from a location where there are little to no jobs available in art, then you have to open yourself up to going where the jobs are. That can involve relocation; then you have to think if you want to be away from your family and your friends.
3.  Who you know is way more important than what you know.
Yes, if you take a course involving resume writing and networking, it is mentioned.  However, it sometimes gets mentioned in passing, like the resume writing is paramount.
I’m not saying the look of the resume isn’t important, but let’s be honest.  How many people got the job really based on the resume and the interview?  It’s a smaller number than one may think.
Usually, it’s one of your friends, associates, mentor, or family members knowing of a job which is available, putting in a good word for you, and then, because you don’t want it to look like you got an advantage, going through the mechanics so it looks like you got the job fair and square.
Not saying there’s anything wrong with utilizing the resources; I just want to shed some light on it.
4.  In quite a few professions, you can get away with having no education if you have experience.  However, it is rare that you can get away with having no experience yet have the education.
In the degree I obtained, I experienced a lot of frustration coming out because although I had the degree in place, the position also demanded some levels of experience.  How can I get the experience if I’m not given the opportunity?  On top of that, the positions that required no experience, I got told I was “overqualified” for because I had the degree.
5.  You may possibly have to take jobs not related to your field at all until something better comes along.
Yes, that is a bummer, since the whole point of going to college is to make one’s life better and get something in your field.  The only fallacy is what happens if that job in your field doesn't come along---then you may be stuck working at a job that doesn't even require a degree at all.
Yes, all of these things can work to dampen the fire.  However, I think a lot of us would be better off if someone did give us this “real life talk.”
That way, we wouldn't be as crushed if the job wasn't available or that the resume isn't enough.  We would be more prepared for the bumps along the way.
The realities that I discovered back then are the same ones current college students are facing today.
Colleges are more expensive than when I was attending.  Pell grants and scholarships can’t quite cover all the expenses any more.  Taking a student loan has become more”the norm” rather than “the last resort.”
Compound that with the interest rates and the lack of quality jobs being available for students once they graduate; now the student (and the parents) start off with huge amounts of debt which “jobs in the meanwhile” (those which don’t involve a major—like fast food, service, and the like) don’t have high enough wages to even help on the monthly student loan payments.
Yes, jobs are growing, but not in areas that require a degree or advanced experience.
Areas like retail, service, and fast food are getting the biggest surge, so you have high school kids, college kids, and people who can’t get a job in their expertise battling for these positions which barely pay minimum wage. 
So the question remains: Is college really the way to go?
If I was asked this question in my earlier years, “yes” would come out with no hesitation.  I would give you the spiel about the prestige and the opportunities which await you.
In this day and age, the “yes” doesn't flow so easily.
For children who are uncertain whether they want to go to college or not, I don’t think a parent should necessarily force the child to go.  I definitely don’t think a parent should invest in putting out money towards a four year college or university if he isn't sure the child is going to make it past the first semester.
A safer investment would be a community college or even a possible trade.  There are some people who just took a trade and are making more money than some people who got their degree.
For the higher end degrees (like doctor, lawyer), then college is definitely a necessity.  However, you have more people in medical school and law school than you have jobs, so this route is also a bit tricky.
There are some who have dropped out of the job hunt all together in order to become entrepreneurs.  However, although college would serve as a good foundation, it’s not really needed as much as one would think.  Read the right books on management, accounting, ethics, or small business, and you can actually teach yourself.  Invest in a few seminars or even seek out credible information online.  Plus, network.  You will never know; you may have a wealth of people who already are skilled in the areas you seek.
Plus, so much of college education has started transitioning to online classes.  Not that I mind online classes, but I really liked the face to face interaction with an instructor rather than interaction with a computer.  I’m sure not everyone feels that way.
I will always feel proud that I attended college.
However, I hope that today’s college attendees don’t let the prestige of college override the practicality.
Because that comes with a price—a price that a lot of people these days are struggling with or unable to pay.


Reggie said...

I have had a degree in Business for about 25 years now. I went to college on a scholarship and I also got student loans as well. I didn't pay off my loans until I was 30; and only then, because I received a lump sump due to my father's death.

I believe that education is important and right now, my two children are in college themselves. Hopefully both of them will be out within the next 18 months. I am happy that they are getting a college education. I don't think though, that every person needs to go to college in order to be successful. The world needs carpenters, plumbers, policemen, firemen, electricians, farmers, soldiers and sailors. We need people working in manufacturing. We need people building shit. I'm sorry, I was watching the debate while typing bad.

No Labels said...

No, that's quite all right. How did you enjoy the debate, by the way, Reggie?