Since our country was declared to be in a recession some two years ago, there has been ample evidence everywhere that we still are in one. One of the first things President Barack Obama encouraged everyone to do was return to school. The theory behind this was to help people stay ahead of the job market, strengthen our country’s knowledge base and insure better-paying jobs for the future.
But what if all that extra schooling left you with nothing but seemingly insurmountable loans and no promise of a job when you finished? One Boston University law school student, set to graduate next year, is demanding a refund from the school.
The student, who has chosen to remain anonymous, has been described only as a third-year law student. He says that he and his wife are expecting their first child and, “with fatherhood impending, I go to bed every night terrified of the thought of trying to provide for my child AND paying off my J.D, and resentful at the thought that I was convinced to go to law school by empty promises of a fulfilling and remunerative career.” He wrote a letter to his school requesting help. He also said he was willing to leave law school at the end of the semester without a degree if the money was returned to him.
The school of hard knocks
It’s hard not to feel a little sorry for the man. In this uncertain and unstable economy, not having a job, especially after years of hard work and discipline, is scary and demoralizing. Yet, he’s hardly the only person treading this path. There are millions of people who share his fears. The universities are full of all kinds of students who were told, “Get an education and it will pay off in a big way for the rest of your life.” How true is that?
As a person struggling to find a job without a degree, I often wonder the value of racking up long-term loans to study things I already know just so I can get a piece of paper to prove it. It’s kind of like saying the only way you can prove your love to another person is to marry them. We all know that isn’t true. Why do we keep insisting that EVERYONE needs a college degree to succeed?
Truth be told, I’m more of a college dropout than anything. I have more than three years of education beyond high school. One of the places I studied was a vocational school that teaches broadcasting. The Broadcasting Institute of Maryland, a small trade school in the Baltimore area, has been churning out success stories for the past 40-plus years. If you know the name Robin Quivers, sidekick to Howard Stern, or comedian, Mo’Nique, you’ll get some idea of where my fellow alumni have gone with their careers. Many of the most successful graduates never once set foot at a university. Does everyone need that level of education to go far in life? I wonder.
Add it up
Back to the man at Boston University. One could argue that nobody forced him to attend such an expensive, Ivy League school. The average cost there, according to the school's website, is around $60,000 per year for law school including food, housing and text books. If you know anything about law school, the more prestigious the school you come from, often the best job offers you’ll find waiting for you at graduation. The problem is, if you don’t get good paid internships and clerkships over the summers of your schooling, you’re effectively dead in the water when you finish school. It is undoubtedly part of the reason he’s so scared.
The school I graduated from had many opportunities for learning. I enjoyed three internships where I picked up valuable skills I still use to this day. Two were at radio stations; one was at the local public television station, Maryland Public Television. I enjoyed being on the air for afternoon drive news at the tiny daytimer radio station. I acquired six fans who called in daily to tell me how good I was. At MPT, I reveled in editing satellite news feeds and producing the evening news breaks that were broadcast between shows. My hands got dirty and I grew from the experience of it. I’m not sure there is a better way to learn.
As the unemployment rate in this country has remained around 9.5-percent (officially—unofficially, many experts have suggested almost double figures), this is one of the longest stretches of such figures since the 1930s. It’s been fourteen long months the figure has been that high. Many economists predict it will get worse before it gets better. Does it really make sense, then, for anyone to immerse themselves into an expensive college when they need a solution now?
A study by the non-profit organization, The College Board, released last month, claims that in spite of rising tuition costs and student debt levels, a degree translates into a bigger paycheck over a lifetime. It also says that it also offers a buffer against unemployment. According to the study, those aged 25 and older with college degrees experience only 4.6-percent unemployment compared with those with only high school diplomas whose jobless rate is 9.7-percent.
Many studies over the years have concluded that college graduates vastly out-earn their non-degreed counterparts, sometimes by as much as one million dollars over a lifetime. A study released by BusinessWeek this past summer says this “million-dollar payday” is only true at a handful of the 500 colleges in it’s own study. If you graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, you could end up one of the lucky ones. The study found that most degrees, however, just didn’t offer the same return on investment (ROI).
Part of the problem with the average college education is this: it’s usually one big party with moments of learning thrown in. I once had the pleasure of meeting the legendary journalist, Barbara Walters. Speaking of her own post high school education she said, “College was great. I had a lot of fun; I learned nothing.”
Last year, in an opinion written by Smart Money editor, Jack Hough, in the New York Post, he said that colleges need to be held accountable for the outcomes their students spend four years investing their time and money. “Schools should figure out a way to prove what students have learned, beyond the say-so of their degrees,” Hough said.
Perhaps it is also time for employers to stop accepting a college degree as guaranteed proof of knowledge and a worker’s ability to do a job. With a few exceptions, most undergraduate studies degrees are little more than proof of residence of their degree holders for four years.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist
Recently, a friend of mine who is a teacher, called to complain about something his roommate said. Another teacher, she was explaining something about musical theory to him when he through out the word “precocious.” He was dumbfounded when she asked, “Precocious? What does that mean?”
“Can you believe it?” he asked me.
I could. I once spent three days sitting across from a woman with two master’s degrees who didn’t know how to turn on her own work computer. On the fourth day, I politely asked her why she wasn’t working. She said she wasn’t sure how to start the computer. I was a temp earning $12 an hour; she was paid $50,000 a year to watch a blank computer screen. Did I mention this was at a state government office?
I do believe there is some value to be found in higher education, but I disagree it will always be found at a university. Not everyone is meant to be a doctor or a lawyer. Those with an aptitude for other things should consider vocational or trade schools where, after a much shorter learning period, they are taught job skills that can be put to immediate use for a decent paycheck. Even Albert Einstein would agree.
“The only source of knowledge is experience,” he said, but he also offered, “Imagination is more important than knowledge, for knowledge is limited while imagination embraces the entire world.”
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