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Post-Apocalyptic Undergraduate Zombies
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catvalente

With all the discussion of student loan debt lately, I had a curious. I went to look up the current tuition for UCSD, my undergraduate alma mater–part of the UC system, keep in mind, so at least in some part state-subsidized. When I went there it was because I couldn’t afford out of state tuition for UW, which at the time was $11,000 per year.

Holy shit.

It’s not only doubled since I graduated in ’02, but nearly tripled, to a bit over $13,000 per year, up from $5000. $2k more than the out of state tuition I couldn’t afford. (Which is now up to a Lol-arious $27,000 per year at UW.)

I moved out of California in ’01 (yes, that math is weird, I did my senior year at Edinburgh University and took the degree exams there) and have only been back for about 9 months since, during which time (2003) I attended Cal Poly for graduate school (then $2000 per year tuition, now $6606 per year). I have student loans from this, boy howdy, and a lot of it is from those 9 months as–well, let’s just subtract the life story part and say that I was very late in applying and missed the window for grants, I was not yet married nor employed, so I had to take out loans for the whole of my living expenses and tuition. Fun.I am well aware that the California budget looks a lot like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon: the Terminator paints a tunnel on a wall and disappears through it while the rest of the state faceplants. I knew tuition had gone up, but fuck. Even my community college (American River in Sacramento) is up from $13 per unit to $20, which doesn’t sound like that much and isn’t as bad as the rest, but that’s still a 50% increase. Let’s not even talk about what my private school east coast friends paid.

My loans aren’t really that bad, comparatively. I went to community college, then state schools, and my UCSD tuition was taken care of by grants every year. Not covered, naturally–the expense of living in San Diego (which hasn’t had on campus room for the majority of its students and none of its transfer students for years) and San Luis Obispo, liberal arts textbooks, and commuting. I also worked pretty much the whole way through. I did all those things the 53% kids say they did, and I still had to have loans. Still have loans. Will for awhile. Because real life keeps coming along whenever I think I can pay them off.

And I can’t imagine trying to do it now, with even state tuition looking like that, and cost of living astronomically high. I don’t necessarily agree with student debt forgiveness–I took out those loans and I’m responsible for them. But then, I didn’t have to take out high interest loans co-signed by my parents, and I got several grants and scholarships that aren’t widely available anymore. The answer, I’d say, is that college shouldn’t cost so damn much (the tuition is too damn high), especially having experienced the UK system where my peers were paying about 1000 pounds a year for heavily subsidized education that didn’t bankrupt anyone before they could even get a job.

I remember too well how unaffordable and impossible everything seemed when I was 19 and trying to get an apartment in San Diego with a roommate who was not a literal crackhead (ended up with the next best thing, a closeted lesbian fundamentalist Christian with a drinking problem, and still living an hour and a half from campus). I actually cried the first time I went into the housing office and saw the rents posted–having moved from Sacramento where you could still (in 2000) get an ok studio apartment on your own for $400 a month, La Jolla and anything actually on the bus route to campus might as well have been in Shangri-La.

I try to imagine being in college now. I think about what I majored in, which was Classics. Dead languages, yo. EXTREMELY PRACTICAL. And every single person who asked my major followed that up with “How do you expect to make money from that?” so I could not have been totally blind to how not useful that degree was. I had a plan and that plan was to be a professor–my mother was one, it was a world I knew. Of course, these days those very colleges whose tuition makes one choke have cut many of their tenured positions so that they can pay adjunct faculty embarrassingly little. And I did manage, somehow, by the grace of whatever gods there are, to back into a job where I use my degree just about every single day. It DID turn out to be extremely practical, a really excellent education for a genre writer–but that might have gone the other way just as easily, leaving me to work–or as likely in this economy, not work–as a greeter at Wal-Mart. Or, in a better case scenario, an office manager, or the other clerical professions that don’t really care what your degree is in. Maybe a nanny, or a PA. And I may still end up doing that–writing is never safe or sure.

As we start to make tentative plans to have our first child, I find all this terrifying. (Like how I just slip that in there? If you don’t blog it, it isn’t real, but nothing’s happened yet so it feels weird to make a thing of it. The plan is sometime after The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland comes out next year. Fingers crossed.) What would I tell a kid of mine who wanted to major in something impractical like I did? I can say: don’t major in creative writing if you want to be a writer, you have to know something to write about, but what else? Double major in something “useful”? Because what is useful now? Computer Science, I guess, though that’s no guard against unemployment. But servicing and programming the robots is about the only thing I can think of that’s even in the orbit of a safe bet. It’s all luck or connections. Be born connected or have a leprechaun’s luck. MBAs have glutted the market, same with law school grads. You have to have the spare time to work unpaid internships to leverage those degrees. Since you have to go to college to get even low-end jobs now, graduate school is becoming the next “everyone has to” bar, and that costs even more. And you know, there is huge value to finding yourself in school, exploring, not deciding right away, meeting people who are not exactly like you and your parents. I wish there was a less apocalyptically expensive way to do that.

And all the while people bitch about generations, and how they’re entitled, and their delayed adolescence. Which is just so gross. How can adolescence not be delayed when the basic requirements for working and living keep going up? So yeah, I understand the collegiate strain in the Occupy Wall Street crowd–I’m not at all sure how I feel about OWS as a whole, but I get the trapped feeling. It’s less and less possible to escape the trap, and it feels like that’s by design, so that we start out buried in the system, and spend most of our time just trying to get our heads above water.

It’s hard not to feel hopeless. I have to stop reading blogs I used to, just to not want to hide all day long from a whole bunch of things I can’t effect and have no solution to. The whole system that the Boomers have told us would be eternal because it worked for them actually functioned for maybe 20 years, but not only do we keep getting told to behave as though it’s still in place, we still kind of believe it should be and that somehow we’ll go back to it. We never will. I have no idea what kind of SF working world is coming, but something else is, the only question is whether it will be a new set of assumptions that will burn out by the next generation or straight up dystopia, and then how dystopic it aims to be. I read an article saying it’s the end of the industrial age in the West, and maybe it is. Maybe the robber barons bookend that world, and we’re headed out of it. I suppose I did just give a talk about how medieval our lives really are right now.

Maybe it’s not as bad as all that. But I look at that tuition, and I see plans to raise it another 30%, and I wonder how anyone is going to manage 20 years from now. I need a drink.

Mirrored from cmv.com. Also appearing on @LJ and @DW. Read anywhere, comment anywhere.


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I have a daughter that's a junior in high school. There's _some_ money for college, but not a lot, because life is what it is, and I had her before I was ready and am still putting myself through college at 36.

We've already told her to plan to spend a year, probably two, attending community college, living at home, and working. She's not sure what she wants to do - she loves to write, but we have, I must admit, been imploring her to figure out how she wants to make money, and worry about writing once she can put a roof over her head. I feel awful about that, but it's the world we live in and there's no way in good faith I can tell her "sure, go get a creative writing degree and GO WRITE!" Because I can't afford to support her indefinitely while she tries to Be A Writer. She needs job skills.

But it's just crazy, and I do feel a little bit of guilt when I say "Dreams are nice, but they don't pay the rent." But sadly, it's true.

I got a great education at my community college, for the record. Better than at UC, except for language instruction, which to be fair, was the bulk of my degree work.

Don't let her major in creative writing. At least major in English, but really, major in something you might want to write about, and learn that--CW degrees are mostly workshops, which can be had anywhere, and the degree itself is not worth much when it comes to actually getting writing work. Tell her to major in something that will provide a good bed of knowledge to write out of.

And if she doesn't make it as a writer, she'll at least have that, and not a degree she can't use.

Edited at 2011-10-25 05:34 pm (UTC)

I graduated from a 4 year private college in 2010, with $23,000 in debt. And I'm on the low end of my class. For me, my parents being poor worked in my favor because I was entitled to a lot of student aid. Other classmates, whose parents made enough that they didn't get much need-based aid, but who couldn't afford to just out and out pay for college, were pretty much screwed.

Combine that with this economy, and I feel like my entire generation does feel that trap. We were told that college is necessary and that college will get you a better job. Now we're facing a reality where most of us are having to contemplate getting a job we hate (if we can even do that) to pay off the debt. I stuck it out for over a year before I finally got a job in my field and even that does not currently pay me enough to live on. Thank God I have a rent-free situation, because I'm not sure how I could do it otherwise.

tl;dr: you're absolutely right about this whole stupid mess. And I'm so sick of hearing about how entitled we are. Apparently entitled means unwilling to give up your dreams?

Well, and it's the Boomer system, which worked for them. Go to college, because that's a class marker and it gets you into a better tier of the workforce. Buy a house and pay it off in 30 years because you won't have to move 10 times in that span. But now everyone has college, and there's still not enough jobs, and those there are don't pay enough to get into the tier of social and economic power the Boomers could with an undergrad degree.

Graduated in 1984, bounced a check for my last quarter's tuition the day I walked because I hadn't been able to come up with it all that quarter (they took it back from the first tax return I filed the next year), otherwise they wouldn't have given me my degree.

Which was a BS in Communication Arts, Broadcast Option - which Cal Poly Pomona no longer offers. It's their version of a radio/television/film degree, and since it had no actual film making exposure - NONE - it was very heavy in critical analysis. Whee. Now, to be honest? Today simply *having* that degree opens doors that would be closed to me. My boss, right now? Having never gotten the bachelors, is doing an online course to get one because even taking a 40% cut, he won't find another job.

So what did I fall into? Something that's Kennedy-era technology. No kidding. And adding every new trick coming down the pike to support the newest thing, which today is the social networking wave/craze. In short, I convert things into data, trade it with vendors/customers and convert it back to things again.

I got an education that taught me how to continue to learn after I left school. I got a discipline that makes me work when I hate what I'm doing. I was also hungry for the ability to have more than a couch to sleep on.

And I got it at the community college level, only spending the last two years at Cal Poly...working three jobs, and eating candy bars and cartons of milk out of the vending machines to keep going. I was 96 lbs when I walked - and nobody can tell me I could do it now, there's just no way.

But they also told me that when I left high school and went to the nearest community college and enrolled. 'How are you going to pay for all that?' Had no idea. I made it up as I went along.

Education IS the future - and we place it also on the level of a National Security need. I can only hope the pendulum will swing back that way soon. It's been thirty years, and the proof really is out there now it isn't the way to go.

I agree that I learned to think and adapt foremost as an undergrad--to take in, collate and arrange data so others could understand it. Education should be for everyone--but we're in a terrible moment where it doesn't get you much in the interview room, it's treated as a piece of paper that you must have, but when students treat it as a piece of paper they're derided. I don't know what the solution is.

"especially having experienced the UK system where my peers were paying about 1000 pounds a year for heavily subsidized education that didn’t bankrupt anyone before they could even get a job."

Given your quoted rate of tuition of $13,000 for a USCD degree, I am sorry to say that this is now comparable to an education at almost any UK university for a UK student (you're looking at £9,000, which at a conversion rate of c$1.5=£1, comes to $13,500 (Unless you're Scottish at a Scottish university, when fees are nil)).

Now, whilst it is the government from which students are borrowing in an unsecured manner, at rates of interest that are relatively low (inflation-plus-3% during the course of the degree and when earning over £21K, nil otherwise) and a set repayment rate (9% of income over £21K for the new rates) it is still a huge debt burden, especially when combined with the non-tuition costs of universities (maintenance loans of c£3,500 ($5,250) under the same conditions as tuition fee loans are standard, and tend to be backed up by overdrafts and credit cards in most cases).

Right-wing governments in both our ("proud Anglo-Saxon") nations are attacking the education infrastructure (the higher fees cover a cut in teaching grants) and the future of their young people. </3

Well, and I did go to a Scottish university.

But at the time there was also some sort of system where you didn't start paying it back til you hit a certain income level. Is that gone too?

If your youngsters want to major is something impractical, suggest that - along with all those critical thinking skills (which actually are damn useful, or so I'm finding) - they also learn how to do something with their bodies (if they can).

Trim carpentry
Auto repair
Yoga instruction
Pottery
Figure modeling
Plumbing
Personal training
Gourmet Cooking

Stuff that can be put to use in a bunch of different ways - from saving your own money because you know how to fix the toilet/carburator on your own to being a broke-ass professional crafter who can teach pottery classes in community centres and/or sell spiffy-looking vases at craft/art fairs to being someone's on-call personal chef.

Some of my livelihood comes from doing contract office work, sure. The rest of it comes from modeling, freelancing, and craft shows. And that's what's paid my rent whenever the contract jobs have dried up for months at a time (which they've done often, in the past three years or so).

Yeah, we fully intend to teach a variety of earthy skills like growing and cooking food and making clothing, etc. Whatever mechanical skills we can, too. Of course, cars now have computers, so it's hard to fix them without crazy equipment.

I work at a university as an academic librarian. I see what the high cost of tuition is doing to students. Not just the crushing debt they leave school with, but the choices. Students are feeling compelled do get in and out of school quickly - four years and no more. Which sounds great (maybe) but it also leaves no room for changing your mind about things or changing majors - locking them into careers that might have sounded good at 19 but aren't what they want at 25 or 30 or older. More and more of them are choosing careers (at 19) for money not for love. And after graduation, they might want to do work that does a public service or that they love or that makes them feel like they are doing good, but have to instead take jobs that will pay enough to live and pay back the massive student loans.

A student might want to study the humanities or the classics, but economic pressure says study what will make money. With the pressure to graduate and pay loans, students can't even take a course or two just because it interests them.

This just breaks my heart. When I was in college I stayed an extra two years and got a minor in English because that was what really interested me. It was what I loved. And I think I'm a better, smarter and wiser person because of it. Now, I think the humanities are on the decline because the pressure of money and debt leaves no room for them.

I took longer than four years too.

And the thing is, who even knows what will make money now? Business majors used to be a good deal, now they mean very little. And who knew I'd make decent money using that very "useless" degree?

I must be relentlessly optimistic: going to a private women's college, majoring in creative writing. I take the time to take obscure classes in things that interest me (Buddhist Traditions? Origins of Poetry? YES.).

But I do have some semblance of a plan: get some pieces published in smaller lit mags, so when I graduate I can actually put something in a cover letter. That being said, I am well aware of the reality that I may go back to working daycare when I graduate (a job that I'm fairly certain made me depressed). I'm prepared to look for a job in the town where my school is rather than at home; the job market is much better here than where I grew up.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I am going to college because I love learning and because it is beneficial. But when I really think about "what I want to be when I grow up," what comes to mind are people: you, as well as other writers I admire. And internet giving us the glimpses into the lives of others that it does, I see other writers succeeding, and that makes me confident in my ability to persist until I succeed as a writer.

Or maybe I'm just relentlessly optimistic.

Did you got the same all women's college I went to?

(Hollins and if so Happy Tinker Day!)


I just went over the estimated costs for UCI (when I went '94-'99 vs. now) in the comments on a link I posted over on FB yesterday, which includes housing, food, books, etc., and that was pretty awful; looking at tuition (formerly "fees"), it's definitely tripled. I was paying $1250/quarter when I started, $1300/quarter by the time I finished, and it's currently $3740/quarter. What it supposedly cost for everything when I was going only covers tuition now.

Irvine, btw, is pretty comparable to La Jolla in terms of barely-affordable off-campus housing in reasonable distance. While it's not as expensive, per se, it's as relatively expensive in the sense of being out-of-reach of the average student.

I'd type more or more coherently or to say anything more than, "Yeah, totally!" except that my son wants my total attention Right Now.

On average, the income differential between people with college degrees and people with just high-school diplomas is much, much higher than the monthly payments on student debt, even with today’s drastically inflated tuition; someone with a degree in anything, even Classics, is more attractive a candidate for Generic White-Collar Job than someone with no degree at all. This may be because of some intangible social or cognitive skills that you pick up alongside your classes, or it may just be that hiring managers, sensitive souls that they are, look at a college dropout and see LOSER tattooed on his or her forehead.

The problem with majoring in some obviously “useful” subject is that it might not be so useful five or ten years from now. You major in Computer Science and then graduate to discover that there’s a glut of programmers on the market, the really hot jobs are in biotech, and you curse yourself for not majoring in Organic Chemistry. Or you major in Computer Science despite not actually being interested in computers, and find yourself hating not just your job but your entire career path. (I hear a lot of lawyers find themselves in that position.)

My own bachelor’s degree is in Political Science, with a minor in Women’s Studies; my graduate degree is in Education of the Deaf; and I am gainfully employed as... a computer programmer. (Excuse me: software engineer.) I wish I had majored in CS or even math-with-CS-spin, but my choice to get a social-science degree has not doomed me for life.

OR, you major in Russian Studies, then the Berlin Wall falls and the USSR collapses. And the weird kid who majored in Middle Eastern studies, well, he benefits greatly when the Gulf War and the last twenty years of geopolitics starts up!

I told my parents this weekend that if I had it to do all over again, maybe I wouldn't go to college at all. I'd learn a trade and be a plumber or an electrician or a general contractor. (At the very least I would have stayed far away from the humanities.) My plumber friend makes way more than (my history degree and) I do, and it's in the ballpark of what my boyfriend (who has a master's in math/computer science) makes. Because fewer people are going into these professions, demand and compensation are going up.

Meanwhile in many white-collar sectors (like mine), demand is getting scarcer to the point where these days you not only need a bachelor's degree and probably also a master's to enter the field, you need to have been able to spend large chunks of time working for free in a major metropolitan area while you were a student. I had a hard time breaking in ten years ago without a bunch of unpaid internships, and it'd be ten times harder now.

I think the best-case scenario is if when our generation's children reach college age, going to college goes from "everyone has to" to more like it was when our parents and grandparents were that age - those who loved school and/or had the means kept on going to it, and those who didn't went to work. I'm pretty radically lefty, and I firmly believe that everyone who wants to go to college should be able to, but I also think the stigma on not going to college needs to - and will - change as we realize that we actually need more plumbers and contractors than we do comparative linguists and Victorian novel experts as a matter of pure practicality.

I'm making a wild conjecture here, but--most of the focus today is on STEM, because it's easy to get funding for and the industry concerned is innovating. Humanities are getting the ugly stepsister treatment (and I have another theory, where college used to be for Boys Only, and now that girls are there, well, they divvied up some of the majors as girly [humanities] and some as manly [STEM] so there could still be misogyny funtimes at college), and training in STEM, at least at the B.S. level, is mostly taking in information, not forming hypotheses or original thought. Whereas humanities is typically about "take this material and say something about it, preferably something new and unique."

Now, the main complaint I hear from employers and supervisors is that they can't find anyone who can critically think. Think for a moment, on the process of analyzing a piece of literature--you have to take into account historical context, the socio-economics of the characters and times, detect any and all bias by pure language or plot or characterization, look for any metaphor or reference commenting on these things, etc. More or less, you have to figure out what it's about using your brain and research skills, and then communicate your findings effectively in a written piece of work. It seems to be in my experience that this kind of thinking-ability is sorely lacking, and needed, across all disciplines.

I'm not sure any major is a safe bet, but I think in the future it isn't going to matter so much, what with so many people going into fields they didn't go to college for, and any major that trains someone to do the above (it doesn't have to be analyzing literature, that's just the example that comes to mind) is going to produce someone who can land on their feet in the job market.

There's a lot more I could say on this, but I have to jet to class myself and get an essay turned in.

Oh, and I'm already getting visions of Knitting All the Toys and Needlefelting All the Characters for de bebe. If/when you have a kid, it is going to be so loved near and afar.

Oh YES THIS.

Humanities teach you to think outside of the box. STEMs teach you to think in a straight, logical line. Both are really useful.

I think this frustrates me a lot, because it's generally the same people whose super-egalitarian ideas fucked up the higher education system who complain about how fucked up it is now.

The reason a college education used to be a marker on a path to success is because it meant something. It was hard to get in, it was hard to pay for if you weren't really, really smart. Sure, your parents might take out a loan for college-maybe-but it would be backed by collateral, and they would expect you to choose something you could earn at. Only those whose parents had wealth could afford to "find themselves."

Then came the idea that everyone somehow "deserved" to go to college, whether they were smart enough to do it or not, whether they had the money for it or not. Various colleges had to keep lowering the bar because it wasn't /fair/ to require people to already be educated first. And inflating the grades, because after all, they were trying, weren't they, and if you let them in but flunk them, it hurts your standing.

And college became worth less, unless you went to the really good colleges-the private colleges that could afford to set the bar really high for either intelligence or wealth. Because college wasn't a measure of anything anymore, because we made loans plentiful and abundant regardless of people's abilities or chances of ever paying them off.

Now we're seeing the results of that.

I get angry, because why /should/ someone get afforded the opportunity to "find themselves" just because it's nice for them? When kids come out of college having taken the equivalent of basket weaving and then complain about not being able to find a job, it makes me sick. It's because they're not looking to find just any job, they didn't go to school to find just any job. They want the magical fulfilling job. That gives you ponies.

Sure, some people are lucky enough to be able to make a living at it, but there's a reason they call it starving artist, and I wish more people would realize that.

I'll be graduating debt-free because I signed 8 years of my life away for my education, and I don't blame anyone else for my own choices. I am the 53 percent.

I'm a little surprised to see you align yourself with that group and by implication some of the hateful things they say.

It's insane. When I was an undergraduate at a state school, tuition, room and board was around $10,000/year. I couldn't afford it, so I took out loans. (I actually came thisclose to joining the Army for the tuition reimbursement.) Now, it's $19,000 (if you're a resident; nonresident = $27,000). I paid most of my way through graduate school by teaching and working crap jobs; I took out one loan the last semester to buy a computer so I could write my thesis.

I've been paying down these loans steadily since graduation, and I will pay them all off when I'm 40. FORTY. I feel lucky to be able to pay it off by then, and I can't imagine what it's like to owe tens of thousands -- or in the case of some of my coworkers, HUNDREDS of thousands -- of dollars. I mean, seriously: What happened?

A friend of mine has over $100,000 in school loans.

She wants to be a teacher. She has her certification. She's realized that she's making more money in a call center right now, than she would if she could FIND a starting teaching job.

Benefit of teaching, though-- stay in public service for ten years, and those loans are forgiven. Of course, you have to find a job that keeps you on for that time, and never miss a loan payment, but it's something.

As someone in the system right now... it's even harder to not feel trapped. I am SO FLIPPING FORTUNATE that my parents have the ability to help pay for undergrad. That I have a job (that I lose one term after graduation) for now. That I've done decently in my double-major time here to maybe get into grad school--which I will have to take out loans for if I get in. If I can find loans. If anyone wants someone with a double-major in Literature and Japanese. If if if.

Graduation, which should look exciting and something to look forward to, terrifies me. And I'm sitting pretty nice right now. I have been incredibly fortunate in my life thus far. I don't know where things go from here and if I'm staring into an abyss of falling off the edge if the new world has no room for me, little useless me, in it anymore. I'm teetering on the edge of things right now, wondering when that fortune is going to disappear out from under our feet.

This isn't something I get to escape. Hell, I feel guilty when writing to escape since that's not being at work or doing homework or...

Forgive student loan debt? Maybe, maybe not. It's an idea. There are others. Any port in a storm, as they say...

I don't believe actual humans live in those houses down by La Jolla Shores. It's a movie set or a video game backdrop; all those palatial windows and doors are actually just painted on. Explains why SD gave me such a heavy Grand Theft Auto vibe.

All this hits so close to home, this is my life right now.

I did what I thought I was supposed to do. I went to community college for two years. I have an associates that was paid for loan-free. I walked away from one state school because I couldn't afford the loans to live on and my school debt is $32,000 for those two years while living with my parents. I was convinced I wanted to be a professor, so I focused on medieval history, chased conferences and things that would be advantageous to getting into grad school.

And then there was graduate school. You can't work in academia without a graduate degree, so I sucked it up to take out loans for an inexpensive program and money to live on. But the living isn't cheap, and I have health issues and can't go to school and work at the same time. And now I am realizing I hate my graduate program and even if I finish here, or lose more money switching programs, my job prospects will be bleak in academia and it's work I don't even think I should do if I want to keep any shred of mental health or physical well-being.

What now? I'm underqualified for anything I can physically do with just a BA. I literally won't have money to pay rent if I quit school. What now? Go home, where my prospects of being hired are virtually zero? Change academic tracks and hope I'll be one of the lucky ones to get hired when it's all said and done and I'm in competition with traditional students with better connections because they sucked it up and took their lumps and paid money I didn't have to be at prestigious institutions? Destroy my health to get work, any work, even if I'll only be able to keep the job 3 months and then be too sick to work again?

There has to be some way out of this madness but I'm afraid to even think of what that would be. I don't think I was stupid for not knowing at 17 when I started down this path that at 23 I'd be someone too ill to have a future in academia. I couldn't have known my health would fall out from under me under the strain of my final year in undergrad and that it looks increasingly as if it won't improve as long as the pressures of academic life are weighing down on me.

I'm left with a love for medieval women, a talent for history and a knack for research, a lot of debt, and nowhere to go but down mutually destructive paths, one of which will explode faster than the other. I know I'm not alone. I'm not trying to whinge, I'm not entitled to anything, but... how, exactly, is hard work supposed to save me? It was busting my ass doing the hardest work of my life in preparation of a career that is now unviable that I got here in the first place.

It's been a decade since I graduated, and I started in 1992. (Five years in, four out, but not all at once.) Thank gods my mom saved as much as she did for my education because my loans were actually reasonable. When the university paper here reported about tuition the other day my brain could not cope. One year to go here is WAY more than what I make working here in a year.

For study, I say study what you want. I finished with a degree in Asian studies, and now next to never use what I learn. Still loved it. If anything bugs me, it's how many people are being trained to continue in academia when the overall job pool is tiny.

Re: destitute proof education... Nursing, physical therapy - any sort of medical training that allows you to take care of common problems. Doesn't take that much training to be a phlebotomist, and that can at least keep you in Ramen noodles while you figure out other options.

I fended off being homeless a few times by having an obscure skill - not only can I make pretty much any dress at couture quality if I have a picture or a good description, I can emotionally deal with Bridezillas. That combo of skills was dearly acquired though, and I'm not sure I would recommend it to anybody unless they REALLY loved sewing and crazy people.

Except that there *are* no jobs in phlebotomy anywhere near me, and I'm in greater Chicagoland.

I stopped hoping for anything good in the future for me or anyone years and years ago. People try to tell me it's my neurology talking, but I (for the most part) often disagree. Everything OWS is talking about are many of the reasons why.

To be honest, on my worst days I'm not even sure if the US will be literate when I'm 80--should I live that long.

ETA: Should probably add that I'm in a pretty bad place a lot lately, so I'm sorry if this comment is glum and defeatist.

Edited at 2011-10-25 07:10 pm (UTC)

I am really considering telling my kids to go into a trade or vocational school. I was hearing on the radio here in CA that it is now more cost-effective to go to an out-of-state school in a state that will allow you to have residency while you're attending, or private schools are about comparable to CA universities. Because of the state's budget the last few years, they are limiting the number of resident students that can attend and really courting out-of-state and foreign students. Damn sad - I was kind of hoping at least one of them would go to my alma mater - HSU - because it's up in the redwoods and housing WAS fairly affordable, but it sounds like even that's going to be out of the question. It's really depressing.

Do! Please do! When I talked about this in high school I was discouraged, because that stuff was low class and not for smart kids. Someone should be talking about the other educational options as viable options worth considering, not just as fallback for dumb kids.

A friend of mine has just finished her counseling course with a SIX FIGURE student loan debt.

I can't even begin to imagine how she's ever going to pay it off.

College costs are a fucking nightmare. The UCs are especially awful given the wonky taxes here in CA and the number of set-asides in the budget. So UC expenditures are often the first thing cut. When you were in school, the state funded around 25% of the UC system; now it's down to 11% and shrinking.

I suspect a few campuses somewhere in the US will burn before this is all through.

This is a subject near and dear to me, because I believe strongly that education has its own value, and I've got a 23+ year career in higher ed student affairs. I've been the student (all the way through to a PhD) and I now work with students. The problem is our society has stopped seeing the value in education, and states defund it at every opportunity. The return on investment simply takes too long for some people (and at some point, when we realize how much we're screwing ourselves, it will be extremely difficult to correct that problem). When education is defunded, the burden gets placed more on the students, because it's not as if the costs go down. I work at the largest state university in the country, the flagship institution of our state and the state's appropriation is about 13% of our operating budget. About 40 years ago, that figure was well over 70%. At the same time, the states cut available funding to poorer students, providing yet more barriers to education. I've seen first hand just how frustrating and devastating this can be to students.

Still, research shows that those with at least a bachelor's degree have a significantly higher lifetime earning potential than those without (it's more than double). Even in this crap economy, people with 4 year degrees have significantly lower unemployment rates than those without. Employers still greatly value bachelor's degrees. And outside of the professional programs (such as engineering and nursing, where students are learning a specific set of skills for a specific marketplace), what the degree is in is far less important than the attainment of the degree.

I often think the wrong question is asked when discussing higher education. Yesterday a friend asked if I was using my degrees. Well, yes, I am. However, my degrees are not in my current field of employment. But that's not really at issue. Ideally, those getting a 4 year degree are learning skills that are valued by employers: critical thinking, working in groups, writing and effective communication - the list can go on. And in that respect, most people with bachelor's degrees are using their degrees. Most jobs don't map to a specific degree plan, and employers are going to train their employees. I am firmly in the camp that education has its own value and always will, regardless of the subject matter being studied, and that college is not a training ground for getting a job (that is the purview of the trades).

One of the biggest problems I see are the barriers to education for the poor. There are many poorer students who want to go to college, and who can be successful, but they simply can't do it (esp with rising tuition costs). By defunding education, the states are just making sure that poorer students have fewer opportunities. (There is a super cynical side to me that says that's exactly what these states want, too.)

I don't think the answer is that employers will stop wanting people with bachelor's degrees, but if we cannot remove barriers to education, we will be furthering the income divide. I only wish I knew how to combat this anti-education, anti-intellectual meanness that has crept into modern parlance. It's insidious, and as long as those people get a bully pulpit (or worse, get elected to office), they're going to direct (de)funding policies.

My sister graduated with her Master's in Education last year. She's employed part time as a school counselor and is looking for other related work in the public sector so that in ten years she can get loan forgiveness, because the alternative is to get a full-time retail job which technically would pay more than what she's currently getting and at least eventually have health benefits. But if she takes the retail job, she'll still have the student loan for a very long time to come.

My husband is in computer engineering and automation- the overlord to our future robotic overlords, he calls it. He's a college drop-out and mostly self-taught. Work pays for any training he asks for. He makes more money than I do and his benefits cover both of us, which is fortunate because I'm diabetic. I graduated from UCSD with a degree I've now come to believe is the equivalent of underwater basket-weaving. But it has the term "computing" in it, so at least I'm qualified to do what I'm doing now, which is part-time teaching (game design and robotics for 1st-6th grades). Fortunately, I had CalVet and an old tank of a car, so no debt but comparatively small credit card debt for me. But no health benefits and I can't fathom that my future SS benefits will be worth much unless I find something better, soon.

We just bought a house and will be closing at the end of the month. I should be happy- it's beautiful and inexpensive and the interest rate is so low it couldn't have happened at a better time. But I'm terrified. It's got enough bedrooms for a family but... I can't imagine. If something was to happen to one of us.... I don't want to imagine.

I don't think I want much- even as a child, I never desired to live in a McMansion or have expensive cars. I just want a home and a family and to be self-sustaining.

Sorry for the rambling.. just have been thinking about this a lot, lately.

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