This blog has been bouncing around in my brain for a while. Then today I was Gchatting with White Sox Dave and we started talking about student loans and how for the most part college is a huge scam. How it’s outdated, how they shove the idea of “you need college to be successful” down your throat, and how for the most part, nothing you learn in college actually matters. Of course, as with almost everything, this isn’t true for everyone. Doctors need college. Lawyers need college. Astronauts need college. But for the majority of the middle class, college and the education system as a whole is a big pile of shit, and this is why.
Let’s start at the very beginning with “the American Dream”. It’s a decent enough idea- if you work hard, you can do anything you want, be anything you want to be. Shit, you can even be the next president of the United States! It’s just not true though. Enough with the American Dream. Sure, some people do overcome the odds, beat the obstacles, and climb the ladder to success. But in today’s day and age, it’s just not practical to preach that. The idea that anyone can do anything is at best the same odds as winning the lottery. Not everyone is special. But from the time you are born and your Grandma starts giving you those US Savings Bonds, you are told that you can do anything you want and to get there, you need college. And unfortunately, because of the way we’ve all been trained, it’s for the most part, true. Even if you want the most basic of entry level jobs, you have to go to college for 4 years to get a degree. Why? So you can put on your resume that you got a degree. Do jobs care what you actually learned in college? Not in the slightest. Do they care if your parents paid for it while you were boozing your face off 6 days a week or if you were working doubles at the Olive Garden to pay for it yourself? Usually not. But the important thing is that your stupid resume where you lie about knowing how to use Excel says that you went to college.
Now we get to the important stuff- what you actually learn in college. You go to college for 4 years. And what do you learn? Not fucking much. First of all, they make you take all these general education classes which are completely meaningless. When you think about it, the fact you are paying loans because they made you take a Geology class freshman year is completely proposterous. College is supposed to prepare you for the real world. Learning about rocks when you’re a econ major is not doing that. It’s just not, no matter how you try to tell me that it makes you more “well rounded”, it just doesn’t. Partly because it’s completely stupid, but also because there’s no chance in Hell you remember more than 3% of the material covered after you take the final exam.
And holy shit, let’s talk about what a joke midterms and final exams are. This one actually bothers me on a personal level because I feel professors should take more pride in their job than to give midterms and final exams. Let’s think about what final exams have come to be- how much information can you memorize and regurgitate onto a scantron and maybe a couple essay questions? There’s no learning involved. It’s cram, cram, cram, cram, take the test, forget everything. I actually preferred doing papers in college because at least that way I felt like I was learning something, even if you had to do all the research yourself. What good does a final exam do when it’s 3 months of information in a 50 question, multiple choice test? It teaches short-term memorization, not that you can actually apply the knowledge to real life. Isn’t that what professors should want, for you to be able to go out into the real world and use what they taught you? But nope, they have tenure and wrote the text book, so you will buy their 200 dollar text book from 15 years ago and continue to line their pockets while learning nothing that you will retain.
What else should we cover? Oh yes, the fact you can get a degree in ANYTHING. Is this the college’s fault? No, of course not. They are there to get money. But again, they operate under the guise that they are helping their students prepare themselves for the real world. Who is to blame for a private, liberal arts college in New Hampshire charging 50k a year for a degree in 1800’s English Literature? I’m not sure “blame” is the word I’m looking for, because it’s all so interconnected with everything else I’ve talked about- you are told you can do anything you want, you are told you need college, and then when you get that degree, there’s just no jobs. And why? Because it all comes back to the fact college just isn’t for everyone.
And that’s another major point. If I could talk to an auditorium full of high school students, I’d tell them that college is simply not for everyone. In fact, it’s not for the majority. Imagine being dumb. Nevermind, imagine just being like a C or worse student in high school. Many of you were. What is college going to do for the majority of you that learning a trade won’t do? It’s so hard to actually type this paragraph because the system is so broken. There’s so much emphasis on going to college that for many with the means, and many more without the means, have it engrained in their heads that college is a must. And it goes all the way up the ladder. Say you don’t want to get a trade job, but you aren’t really cut out or smart enough for college. You can go to community college, sure. You can try to network your way into a job, of course. But the fact of the matter is you learn 95% of the skills you need for your cube job on the job. 4 years of college won’t teach you dick about your job if you aren’t getting one of those very, very important jobs. It’s just more of the system not making a lick of sense. Employers need to realize there is not more value in a kid who went to college on dad’s dime than a kid who didn’t go to college who wants to work hard and make something of himself. The fact most every entry level cube job says “college degree required” is pure and utter bullshit.
And now let’s talk about the grand daddy of them all- paying for college, and primarily, college loans. Again, I want to reiterate, there sometimes are ways around it. Sometimes. There’s aid. There’s scholarships. But the fact of the matter is college is fucking EXPENSIVE. Let’s say you do 2 years of community college and then want to get your full degree, in state, at Maryland.
How do you make college cheaper? Well you can live at home, maybe. Not everyone has that luxury of supportive parents. And please, don’t forget that. For everyone who is privileged enough to have supportive parents, parents with money, parents willing to help out, there are tons of people who simply don’t. Tons of people who if they want to make it have to do it themselves.
So what do the majority of people in the middle class do? They get student loans. Good ol Sallie Mae aka Navient. And you get more student loans. And more student loans. You pay out your ass for the next 25 years for a college degree you don’t need for a job you don’t want. And why? Because you’re supposed to. It’s the never ending circle. If you’re lucky enough to get a job, you use your money to pay for the degree that allowed you to get the job. Does it matter your job is in real estate and you were a comm major? Nope! Just as long as you have $30,000 of student loans backing up the fact you did, in fact, get that diploma.
And why is college so expensive anyway? Just like anything else, people love making money, and a lotttt of it. Say you run a college and you know the system is set up so that people need to go to college in order to make it in this world. Why wouldn’t you charge as much as possible? And the lovely part is the government isn’t going to step in, because they are the ones issuing the loans. We’re told from such an early age that we NEED college, the student loans are passed out like candy, and round and round we go.
So how does college get you ready for life? Well remember that group project you did by yourself because everyone else went out or was too stupid/lazy to do their part? That gets you ready for life. Remember cramming for that final exam, popping adderalls in the library at 3am? Yeah, life is a cocksucker like that all the time. Remember the time you took 10 tequila shots to “catch up” and ended up vomiting before you went out? I’m not sure if that gets you ready for life, but it’s a certainly a part of it. College does teach you things like that, the social parts of life. The experience of college can’t be duplicated anywhere else. You get 4 years in a bubble where you feel invisible to the outside world, where drinking at 2pm on a Tuesday is fine and dandy, where everyone is friendly to each other, and where drugs and drinks and absurdly cheap. That’s basically what 4 years of college boils down to. $80,000 to learn how to get up in the morning with a hangover.
What needs to be done? The cycle has to break at some point. Right now, you might be hearing a lot about the “student loan bubble”. Basically people aren’t paying off their loans because they took out so many loans to get a worthless degree. They were told they could do anything, but unfortunately “anything” doesn’t pay the bills, nevermind the crazy high interest rates on the loans. So then what happens? Everyone’s credit score goes to hell, so they can’t buy a house. Which I guess could be good because that means people can’t default on both their loans and their mortgage, but it also means nobody is buying homes, new cars, or anything. Not great for the economy. I’ve read a decent amount about this, but what’s become clear is nobody really knows exactly how it’s going to end. Colleges will keep making money. The government will keep handing out college loans. Fewer poor people will be able to get college degrees, which will continue the separation of the upperclass and lowerclass. It goes deeper and deeper than that, but for now we’ll leave it there. There’s plenty to read about it on the Internet if it’s as interesting to you as it is to me.
So what should you do? You have to be smart about every choice you make. Funny thing I read the other day- when you’re a senior in high school you have to ask permission to use the bathroom. Fast forward three months to freshman orientation at college and you have to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life. The entire system is simply insane.
Before writing this blog I talked to about a dozen people to gather their thoughts on various topics I’ve talked about. Everyone pretty much agrees on all points- whether you’re rich, poor, privileged, or not, the college system is a scam, and unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. For most people reading this, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it now- you just have to pay off those loans the best you can. Don’t buy a new car once you get that first paycheck, pay off some of your loans. Don’t start taking vacations, start paying off your loans. I’m 27 years old and have gone from $30,000 in loans (going in state!) to about $6.5k remaining. Living a life of debt is not what you want. If only they taught you this kind of thing in college.