College and Other Lies

vb0-80By Veronica Brockschmidt
Student at Kapi’olani Community College
University of Hawai’i

Starting in elementary school, the importance of finding the perfect career for you is introduced with fun little surveys that point you in the direction of possible future jobs based on your interests and selected answers. Kids would get career options like Model, Painter, Teacher, Doctor, etc, and a statistic on salary ranges for each position. In high school, the importance of graduating and attending college is drilled in from day one. By the age of 16 you were expected to know, without a doubt, what you wanted to be when you “grow up.” By the time you actually graduated high school, you needed to know exactly what you wanted to major in and the career you wanted for the rest of your life. That’s some intense pressure, especially for still technically being a kid and not actually accepted into any colleges yet.

You were given more statistics about the financial lives of Americans with college degrees and how much better their lives were than those with only a high school diploma. The implication was that if you go on to finish college, you’d be a millionaire (Kristof), but if you stop now with only your high school diploma, you’ll be stuck at McDonald’s asking your old classmates if they “Want fries with that?” The fear tactic worked. Plus, who doesn’t want to make up to $1,000,000.00 more than someone with just a high school education?

So you do the whole college thing because it’s the new societal norm and you want to make your parents proud. You feel like you have your life together because you’re getting good grades and you have the career major that you truly love and could happily do for the rest of your life. Little do you know that you were severely overpromised on realistic job opportunities and, suddenly, being a college graduate seems like it has nothing to do with how successful you actually are (9gag).

Perhaps it was that, at the time of you declared a major, that industry was hiring a lot of people and that the promise of success even had something to do with your decision. But now that three to five years have passed, those positions have filled up due to the overwhelming flood of qualified applicants who all had the same idea as you. Either way, you, “the successful college graduate,” are somehow unemployed, still eating Top Ramen, and sharing a bedroom to be able to afford rent. 

I went to an extremely expensive private design school in Los Angeles called the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. I graduated with an associate’s degree in Interior Design and an overall student loan debt of $65,000.00. I was ready to dive into the “real world” and start chiseling away at my overwhelming debt. None of my teachers or classes prepared me for the reality that I’d be fighting for entry-level positions with people who had five or more years of experience. They didn’t tell me that I probably wouldn’t be able to find a job related to my field and that I would end up taking a job that I could have gotten without even going to college. (The only place that would take me straight out of college was Pier 1.) Schools only show graphs of their student job success rate (FIDM). What we really should be shown is the job failure rate.

Maybe there once was a time when graduating from college guaranteed a job. I don’t know when that was, but I’m assuming it was during my parents’ generation because they’re the ones who told me all I needed to do was simply go to college. But today’s economy isn’t the one our parents grew up in. Since 1994, underemployment (jobs that don’t utilize your abilities or skills) graduate rates have increased to nearly 20%. Over the course of 20 years, the graduate unemployment rate has nearly doubled (Shierholz et al.).

Experienced professionals are losing their jobs due to budget cuts and are forced to hunt for jobs they are far beyond qualified for, just to make ends meet. That becomes a problem for new graduates looking for a place to get their start. Who are they going to hire? The fresh new grad that’s going to cost them extra time and money to train or the candidate with industry experience and extra skills that they won’t have to pay for? Job search platforms such as Indeed.com even have “entry level” positions that require two to five years of experience to be considered (Griswold).

Even healthcare doesn’t have any promises. I was always told that in nursing I would always have a job. However, new Registered Nurse grads are blatantly met with job postings that say “No new grads.” In California alone, 43% of newly licensed RNs are currently unemployed. Many cannot find a job within the first 18 months of graduating (Kurtz). My Certified Nurse’s Aide instructor gave us a reality check today when she told us that last year, here in Hawaii at Straub Clinic, there were at least 90 licensed Registered Nurses working as the lowest level nurses aide because they couldn’t find a job. So that’s a lot for me to look forward to as being a nurse was my backup career plan.

Not only do you, as a new graduate, have the pressure of finding a job in an impossible economy, but now that bitch Sallie Mae wants her money back for putting you through school. The current total of student debt in the United States is 1.2 trillion dollars (Denhart). TRILLION. As in we owe $1,200,000,000.00 for an education that won’t even give us a job to help pay that money back.

How in the world is a college graduate supposed to survive? We don’t even have a chance in today’s world. It’s almost not even worth the debt to go to college today. Today, the average cost of tuition greatly exceeds the amount of disposable income per capita. That basically leaves you with no choice but to sell your soul and apply for student loans.

This massive student debt doesn’t just affect your wallet. Your student loans now own you. They control your life. With this huge negative red dollar sign hanging over your head, how can you save money? How can you afford a house? How can you start a family? A recent Forbes article shed some light on a fact I didn’t even realize existed until they pointed it out:

The most sobering numbers, however, aren’t about salaries, but about how debt can put people’s lives on hold. Almost 45% of recent college graduates put off buying a house because of their debt, and 55% delayed saving for retirement because of it. 14% of recent graduates put off marriage on account of their debt, and 28% put off having children. (Bowyer)

It’s true. I can’t start doing any of those things right now. Without the right job and being too terrified to look at my remaining student loan balance, my life is halted in this moment. Personally, I couldn’t even consider being a “real adult” until I at least have something that resembles a real career. Which honestly doesn’t look like something that’s happening any time soon.

So how did the people who didn’t go to college turn out? Sure, some of them are busting their ass working multiple fast food jobs and still living at their parents’ house, but others are actually doing pretty well. A job in construction, although very laborious, can begin straight out of high school with no formal education required. Some of the highest paid construction workers in the US are here in Honolulu, making $52,320 in 2012 (“Best Construction”). After earning two college degrees, my best paying job was $25,000. Yikes. Why did I go to college again? (I’m just kidding, sort of.)

That doesn’t mean everyone should stop going to college though. Obviously it’s very important to be educated. But I guess what I don’t understand is why the cost of tuition is going up while the overall economy is going down. Sometimes I feel like we (as a generation) were cheated out of our money and dreams and fed unrealistic expectations of how the system works. Something needs to change because, at the rate we’re going, we’ll soon all be resorting to holding signs on street corners looking for work (Fairbanks). Spare change for my student loans?

Works Cited

Best Construction Jobs: Construction Worker.” US News. 2014. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

Bowyer, Chris. “Overqualified and Underemployed: The Job Market Waiting for Graduates.” Forbes. 15 August 2014. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

Denhart, Chris. “How The $1.2 Trillion College Debt Crisis Is Crippling Students, Parents and the Economy.” Forbes. 7 Aug. 2013. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

Fairbanks, Amanda M. “Job Wanted: A Recent Graduate Looks for Work on a Street Corner.” Huffington Post. 26 May 2011. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

FIDM Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Los Angeles.” Students Review. N.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

Griswold, Alison. “The Absurd Problem with Most Entry Level Jobs.” Business Insider. 28 Feb. 2014. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

Kristof, Kathy. “The Great College Hoax.” Forbes. 15 Jan. 2009. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

Kurtz, Annalyn. “For Nursing Jobs, New Grads Need Not Apply.” CNN Money. 23 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

9gag. Twitter. 7 Nov. 2014. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

Shierholz, Heidi,  Alyssa Davis, and Will Kimball. “The Class of 2014: The Weak Economy Is Idling Too Many Young Graduates.” Economic Policy Institute. 1 May 2014. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

2 Responses

  1. FIDM is a private, for-profit organization. At $65K, this is a very expensive choice for anyone. The previous article articulated the problem of respect for elders. Anyone contemplating such an education should talk to some elders. I wish you had spoken to me first. I would have advised starting at a good public CC. After two years of good professors helping you learn, you may have a better idea of what a career for you may look like. You’re not deeply in debt.

    If your grades are good, you have many options with your AA degree. You can choose a state college or university. Because you were in California, you have the CSU and UC systems available at a decent discount.

    It’s nice to have a degree in something that employers are looking for, but good training in the art of thinking is where you’ll have the most value. Make no mistake, this training also involves acquiring lots of factual knowledge as well. It doesn’t have to be by rote, just enough to know that it’s there for you.

    I run a small business and am hiring very cautiously now for the first time ever. My hires are coming from friends and referrals. Looking for a job? Use your networking skills.

    Realize that a very high fraction of employees hate their jobs. Don’t specialize in your education too early. A great liberal arts education exposes you to many career options as a matter of course rather than by design. Don’t just think that a certain job looks glamorous and pays well. Figure out what it’s like doing it every day of your life.

    Be willing to take some risks — but not with two decades of earnings. So many success stories are about people starting their own businesses that you should be aware of what’s happening around you. Find a way to live with minimal expenses so that you can try out internships in interesting areas.

    I could go on like this, but I’d rather tell everyone to talk to those in the jobs you think you’d like to do. I have had jobs in industrial research, in academia (professor), in high-tech, in sales, in a start-up, and so on. When anyone asks, and few do, about a job as a computer programmer, I ask them what they thought of those SAT tests they took. If they make a face, then I let them in on the secret that writing software (at least at a level that makes really good money) is like taking those tests every working day of your life. Are you ready for that?

    Do you think you’d like to sell? Unless you can handle “No” over and over again, look elsewhere.

    Does scientific research look wonderful? You could be working at the same lab bench doing essentially the same procedures for months on end without any discovery. I will encourage you to enter this field but not if you have a misunderstanding of what is required.

    Perhaps, you’d like to write. Join an enormous crowd. Few make it to writing that novel because it’s hard work day after day putting words down on a computer screen and having it all make sense as well as telling a story. If you finish your wonderful masterwork, you find yourself as one of thousands who are in the same boat. Only a few will gar\ner any significant readership. Very few will make a living from it.

    Find your passion. Then, at least you will be enjoying most of your life.

    I rarely stayed at the same job for more than three years until I finally called working for others quits. I then had about fifteen years of contract consulting in software with great success — and it became dull. I yearned to write for me instead of some corporation (some big ones too, such as Amoco Oil, Texas Instruments, NEC, GTE, Fidelity Investments, and so on).

    The last fifteen years have been great as I have been able to work with two family members to build an idea into a product and then into a company. Now, I’m getting more interested in writing. In school, I hated writing. Today, I find it immensely rewarding.

    Coming back to the opening of this note, stay away from private, for-profit educational institutions. They HAVE TO care more about the bottom line than your education or your success. Do get as much education as you can manage from the best teachers possible. Your mind is your most important asset in the long run.

  2. […] College and Other Lies by Veronica Brockschmidt […]

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