Monday, June 7, 2010

Uh-oh, we're in trouble...

Is the American Dream over? What does it take to be "successful" in America today? For that matter, how do you define success? These questions, and others like them, have been at the forefront of my mind lately.

When I was a child in school, it was practically promised to us that if we did well in school, attended college and got a degree, we would have a good job and a successful career. As a result, it never occurred to me not to go straight to college when I finished high school. And, I was a very young 17 in a lot of ways when I graduated. I probably would've benefited from a year working in the "real world" before going to college.

It didn't even seem to really matter what your degree was in, as long as you had one. I remember during my college selection process hearing this nugget (or one like it) several times: "Businesses like to see liberal arts degrees because it proves you're a problem solver and that you can think for yourself." What a crock.

There are jobs that require degrees - teacher, engineer, doctor and accountant come to mind immediately - and there are jobs where degrees are required but not really necessary to the function of the job. Enterprise-Rent-A-Car is an excellent example of the latter. Did you know they require all of their rental agents to have a college degree because they're considered "management trainees?" Yep, you absolutely need a college degree to rent someone a car.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-college degree. I just think America's obsession with degrees has gotten out of control. I know there are a lot of jobs that I've applied for that I wasn't even considered for because I didn't complete my degree. I think there is a lot to be said for certification programs where you go to school for a year or two and come out with specialized training for a specific field. How much more useful is this to the individual, the business community and our society?

The individual is not burdened with the debt that can be caused by a four-year degree. Businesses benefit because needed workers are available that much more quickly. You see the trend.

Speaking of debt. Student loan debt is in as bad a shape as the mortgage industry. Maybe worse. Children are taking out loans to pay for school, sometimes co-signed by their parents, sometimes not. Do you really think that they know what they are getting themselves into?

I read an article on Yahoo last week about a girl who graduated from New York University with almost $100K in student loan debt. Her bachelor's degree is in religion and women's studies. The lenders are refusing to issue more loan credits so that she can work on a master's degree. Her mother had already co-signed on several loans for her as an undergraduate and even though she was willing to do so again, they were still turned down.

It never occurred to these people that they couldn't afford the degree that was being pursued. They assumed because the girl was getting a good education and degree from a good school that she'd get a good job with good pay and benefits and be all set. Instead, the girl is working as a photographer's assistant for $20/hr and not remotely able to make significant payments on her student loans. The only way the mother would be able to help her would be to sell her bed and breakfast which means she would be out of a business and a place to live, so that isn't a reasonable solution.

I took out student loans to go to school. For my two years and an unfinished degree, my loans were around $12000. I paid an average of $80/month over the course of 12 years (sometime was spent in deferment because of unemployment). It wasn't too bad. This girl, assuming a 10-year payment plan and no interest, would have to pay $835/month. How insane is that? And a women's and religious studies degree? How do you use that except to teach or write books?

I guess what I'm getting at can be boiled down to this: Do you feel like your degree was worth your time and effort? Are you actually using it in your day-to-day work? Has the obtaining of it caused more problems than it's worth?

1 comment:

  1. Boy, that sure is a rant! It was a complete let down when I finished my degree. I think I quit school after 2 years too. But I had to go back & get my degree to be promoted at work (actually even considered for another position). I could not believe how ridiculous & easy the classes were. You really have to question why a degree is worth more than real world, on-the-job experience.