Thursday, November 29, 2012

College Is a Racket!

The more I read and reread the title of this rant, the more I become convinced in the correctness of its message.  College is a freaking racket.  Ironically enough, I’m writing this rant as I sit at a computer in the CSU campus library, giving my brain a break from ridiculous theories of comparative politics and public administration which will probably never apply to my career.

This also gives me a valuable opportunity to conjecture that Woodrow Wilson had no soul.  One reason could be his dichotomy of public administration (given to the world in the same decade he screened D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation in the White House and got America into World War I) makes it highly unlikely I’ll ever find him likeable as a historical figure, or even just as a dude.  Hell, he was even boring in Harry Turtledove’s Southern Victory alternate history novels!  But I digest…

The FIRE Coalition identified the Cal States as being very anti-First Amendment.  After all, they’re public places yet students are required to practice their First Amendment rights within the narrow confines of a farce called the “Free Speech Zone.”  We’re required to apply for permits to practice free speech in one area on public property.  Thank you, Big Brother.

I will admit that there are a few uses for college: for starters, parents need an institution to babysit their children during the day once they graduate from high school.  Second, it gives the Chinese exchange students a golden opportunity to find out how corrupt and bloodstained the CCP Politburo really is.

Third, some of the technical majors have real-life application in both public and private sectors.  Still, those majors (engineering, electrical engineering, automotive, hospitality) could probably still be learned through independent study and apprenticeship programs.  I’m willing to bet even medical practices could be mastered through rigorous self-education and years of apprenticeship, rather than over a decade of taking classes.

There once was a day and age when a college degree was something valuable.  Standards were incredibly high and possession of a college degree was a social contract implying the degree-holder to possess a set of valuable skills.  These skills included but weren’t limited to a well-rounded commanding education with a strong grasp of mathematics, history, classical literature, and rhetoric/writing.  Nowadays, the average college grad barely possesses any of the above.

The best educated people aren’t necessarily those with Masters Degrees, but rather those who make it a passion and a habit to read, hear, learn, and investigate further.

The much-coveted college degree is merely a formality these days, and the emphasis put on degrees borders on idol worship.  People enter college and painfully go through the motions with the expectation that the formality of holding a degree will get them “a good job.”  But what is a good job?  In this dismal economy, a good job is any job at all that can keep a person’s head above water as far as paying bills goes.

Two VERY awesome people using their time at school to be productive
In that sense, the fry cook working overtime at McDonald’s is a hell of a lot better off than the unemployed recent law school graduate who faces over $100,000 in student debt and no job offers.  Better yet, on his free time the fry cook can self-educate and vastly improve himself without any shadow of debt.

Economically, the people my age who are the best off are not those who hold a college degree, but rather those who found niche work, those who joined the wartime military with an enlistment bonus, or those who joined the full-time workforce immediately after high school.  Yet here I sit on campus to the tune of $2,500 a quarter to face another prompt on why Karl Marx was a great economist, a mundane quiz on Brazilian social-democracy, or yet another paper assignment on the Allegory of the Cave.  (I wrote that epically long editorial way before it was assigned in class, thank you very much!)

While I’ve derived a few benefits from going to college—thanks primarily to the excellence of Rhetoric professor Jack Wood of Citrus College—I can honestly say that while my major is a subject dear to me, it’s a waste of time.  I’m a political science major who made the foolish mistake of going to college to study something I love rather than something that’s practical and economically beneficial to me.

I’m not yet finished with my coursework, but even at this point I know that a BA in Political Science will never get me any job offers.  At this time the best paying job I’ve ever had—one which enables me to pay the bills and build up my savings—is a niche job that has absolutely nothing to do with my major.  I have received job offers for paid political internships and even full-time campaign jobs.  However, these offers were sent my way because of years of networking, volunteering, and busting my ass on campaign trails, not because I have the written blessing of a university dean.

Frankly, I’m incredibly irked that I chose to go to college full-time rather than take the days and hours devoted to classes and studying to get a second job.  Perhaps the idol worship of a college degree was worthwhile ten years ago, but that was an era when “good jobs” were abundant and job security still existed.  In the age of the Second Great Depression, America (and much of the world) is in survival mode.  Having a shiny piece of paper doesn’t amount to a hill of beans next to having a roof over one’s head, food in the fridge, and the bills paid.

Many parents, teachers, and high school counselors to this day encourage high school seniors to go straight to college.  If they choose to go, that’s all fine and dandy, and everyone should be free to pursue happiness.  But as I see things, for what students actually get out of their degree, college is a racket.

I made the stupid mistake of not working ‘til I was out of high school at 18.  Just as I started growing my bank account, the recession hit and it’s been an economic rollercoaster ever since.  Today’s high school crowd shouldn’t make the same mistakes I made, and I hope they learn from my experience.

MY advice to kids is this: If you want to go to college, that’s fantastic.  You might actually learn something that changes your worldview.  But get your priorities straight and land yourself a steady paycheck.  If you can get a work permit from high school at age 15, DO IT.  If you can get a part-time job at 16 and full-time summer jobs to build up your savings, go for it!  If you can land 40 hours a week, hop on that train before it leaves without you.  Then start your evening or online classes.

[Anyone considering law school is highly encouraged to read Tucker Max's law school advice based on his own experience (one becoming more and more common these days).]

It’s not like your dreams will come crashing down if you don’t have that coveted piece of paper by the time you’re 22; you’ve got your whole life ahead of you, but you can’t make your dreams come true if you’re broke.

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Cal Poly Pomona CLA Building image by Super Hanz and used via CC BY 2.0 license.
Ron Paul activism photo is the property of Yours Truly (that means me, smartypants).
Desks image by "Milford" and released to the public domain.
The first and third images were obtained from Wikimedia Commons.  I wonder if in, in the future, Sports Illustrated would be willing to let us use some of their swimsuit photos.  Even if they're not remotely useful to my oft-political rants, they'd sure as hell be entertaining.  But that's another soliloquy for another day. 

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