Saturday, June 22, 2013

STORMING THE IVORY TOWER

Quite Frankly, I want my money back.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could return your education? This is not a case of buyer's remorse, wanting something and then realizing the price was too steep and back pedaling. This is a case of false advertising and lack of substation of promised worth. Being a part of the "Indentured" Generation, a whole group of people forever defined in the scrolls of history by their chains of student debt; I like to refer to it as the great College Con of the 21st century. We fell for it-hook, line and sinker. And now we're all flopping around on the shore gasping for financial air.

What has happened to higher education in America is profoundly sad. They have given us diplomas and taken the proverbial clothes off our backs. I feel cheated, I feel scammed.

Photo credit: Andrew Eccles, nymag.com as a photo illustration for an article posted in May 1, 2011, by Daniel B. Smith. To read this similarly themed article click this link "The University Has No Clothes"  .
I have always loved learning and books and discovery. I thought that was what the hallowed halls of a higher educational institution promised. I thought that is what they kept there, the freedom to learn and all the tools a person needed to discover the paths to endless wonder. I thought someone had found answers and stored them in these buildings for others to acquire. Answers to questions like; How do I become a writer? That was my question. The answer I was given was: get a degree in creative writing.

As I slowly repay the thousands of dollars I borrowed to possess the knowledge to become a writer I realized none of what I learned has helped me further myself in that vain. Where were my classes on query letters and book proposals? Where were the courses on choosing a literary agent, on book rights, and the benefits self publishing? These are the things I find myself needing to know and drawing a blank. I'm glad that I have read Homer and Bronte, can appreciate alliteration and place a proper comma, but I feel my college education only looks good on paper. And if it were sweater I'd return it. It doesn't fit quite right, and definitely isn't of the quality I had in mind.

Don't you think there would be much more attention to course selection, degree programs and general customer service within the college/student relationship if there was a diploma return policy? You give them back the certificate, they give you your money back. Not a full refund, no refund on room and board, just tuition. I feel the whole system would be a lot more hands on.

I recently attended a college graduation and was completely appalled by the keynote speaker. An alumnae of the college who was being gifted an honorary doctorate (I will delve into the complete abhorrence I think Honorary Degrees are at a later date). This woman, who was listed as a successful business woman was a horrible speaker. Not only was her speech barely comprehensible, without direction and lacking in elocution, it was demotivating. She told these freshly degreed academics that if they had trouble finding a job in their field of study to "just go get a job at Starbucks."

My jaw dropped and I had to resist the urge to stand and ask her to please cease speaking and vacate the premise. Not only is it sad that probably a third of that graduating class will have to try to get a job at Starbucks (good luck landing one, the competition is fierce because they offer health insurance) but that probably one of the main reasons all those bright eyed people went to school is that they had aspirations beyond serving people three dollar lattes for minimum wage. Why was this woman getting a free doctoral degree? Someone should have stood up and taken it back!

Just because I feel utterly taken in and betrayed by my college experience doesn't mean I am not in favor of the idea of being a degreed individual, and that they at least deserve a good speech for all their hard work and money. So here's my commencement address for all those who got gypped with some similar "Starbucks" speech.

Commencement Address

"Congratulations Class of 2013! You did it! You are now the proud owners of a reeaally expensive piece of paper. You've paid through the nose for it, and many of you will continue to do so for many years, so enjoy it, display it with pride! Unfortunately, a frame is not included. It is not a magic piece of paper, however, that will entitle you to a job, a high paying salary or a perfect life. 

There are no platters with perfect life packages sitting next to your diplomas. You do not cross this stage and become gifted with the secret map to success. It's not on the back of your diploma in invisible ink, and your class rings don't double as decoder rings. As cool as that would be. 

This piece of paper has been imbued with the power to get you access to places in the world you may not have otherwise been able to see. This piece of paper is proof that you have devoted yourself to a task and completed it. This piece of paper is a testament to your ability to tackle complex ideas and expand your mind. 

This is not a degree that entitles you to anything, it is an allowance for you to further better yourself and the lives of those around you. It is a tool you can use to shape the world. You have to do something with it for it to become something more than the most expensive piece of paper you will ever own. Go. Do. "

In a nutshell, that's what I would say. Along with a profound quote or two of course. But I lack the profound sense of accomplishment that is oft associated with the practice of higher learning. The rising tuition costs and the moves to double student loan interest rates make me want to give a completely different speech to those embarking on the journey towards a degree in one thing or other. Go back! Go do something else first! Travel the world with nothing but a backpack and a good pair of shoes! Get a job someplace and make some money first, college isn't going anywhere! College isn't the only path, it's just a path!

Because it's the truth. If tuition continues to rise and the government allows student loan companies to double their interest rates, college is not a wise life choice. Without those things it is already a dubious one. From a purely consumer view point, the student being the customer and colleges and universities being the business, it's not a good buy. Colleges are taking advantage. I think we should stage a boycott.

I'm the blonde girl in the middle, see how happy I was? 
They are still using my smiling face to sell degrees. 
I want to call every high school senior planning to go to college in the fall and tell them to stay home. I want them to take their letters of acceptance and chuck them in the bin. Leave those freshman dorms empty for a year. Let those textbooks go unpurchased and unread. Take a year off, you all deserve it. You've done 12 years of school. Go do something else. Go volunteer, get an internship, see the world. Go get yourself an opinion about something, discover what matters to you.

Perhaps that would deter the blatant mistreatment of the student within higher education. Perhaps that would remind the college presidents and board members the key element of our lovely capitalistic society: That something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Just because they put a higher price tag on something doesn't mean we have to buy it. We can say no. We are the consumer, we have the power. Don't let the smiling people on the admission pamphlet fool you, they are all freshman who haven't gotten their student loan bills yet.

Be against higher education coming with a higher price tag. A college degree would actually mean more if it cost less. If colleges want to raise something, let it be their standards.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Feeling A Little French . . .

Quite Frankly, I'm irate
I'm irked, spurned, and a bit bitter. I'm feeling a little bit French actually, as in if there was a revolution brewing, I'd join it.

Something about living in this land of the "free" and opportunistic has just about pushed me too far. Something about the red tape, the bureaucracies, and the apathy that is strewn about the place like party streamers, makes me want to take up a sword and shout "NO MORE!"

I think the fact that the general population ceased owning swords may have contributed to this general this state of disarray. I mean come on, getting run threw with sword is pretty daunting, it is seriously going to hurt before any sweet angel of death comes for you. The fear of the revolution armed with blades of glory is definitely gone from our ruling classes.

Don't think the class system is so 17th century my fellow Americans. Congress has turned into the new American Nobility, complete with power and salaries for life. But it wasn't the mess of our democracy, the depreciation of higher education, or the complete loss of a job market that made me want to polish my sword. It was student loans.

Not because they are total traps of horrible debt with no hope of any escape, or that they are cunning tools for a smarmy section of money lenders, or even the ridiculously high interest rates and rigged payment options. No, it is the sheer difficulty and energy I have to expend to pay them. It is the the "account log in" that tipped the scales of rebellion.

Isn't it enough to have resigned myself to the system? To chain myself to the wheel and work to grind away at this herculean task? No. It is not. The loan companies, and the all are guilty of this, continue to make their account pages illegible, difficult and completely illogical. It is an attempt to continue to confuse the borrower into missing payments or accruing more interest on high interest loans.  

And I have grumbled, muttered and begrudged this practice as I keenly read through the 'fine print,' the barrage of 'security questions' (like there are a bunch of wily con artists out there stealing student loan debt), 'suggested payments' and 'disclaimers' in order to make my payments on time every month. But this time, this time it is the proverbial straw on the camels back. This time they have passed my loan off (yet, again) to another sub-company loan servicing organization of some sort (insert lots of financial jargon that no one understands) for reasons that they felt no need to divulge.

My account has been dumped elsewhere and I cannot access it! They will send me a "welcome" email as soon as my account is "available". "But please do send your monthly payment (which you undoubtedly have memorized) to this new address and it'll get to the right place definitely," they said on the web page the once contained my account. Oh thanks Money Lender that has no scent of sketchiness at all.

I am filled with the urge to stab these people in the eye and then the spleen and then the other eye.

Disregarding all other arguments regarding the much debated student loan issue, I think all can agree that it should not be this hard to give someone money. Really, it has all gone too far. French people wouldn't stand for this nonsense. Revolution anyone? Free swords.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Something About an Old Truck

Frankly, there’s just something about an old truck that is summer. Climbing up into that solid metal frame, launching myself from the ground on to that tattered seat. Leaning far out to yank that door shut with a bang, causing a little rust to flake off. There’s something about having to crank the windows down, and adjust the mirror by hand, the metal hot from the summer sun.

An old truck is what going for drive is all about. It’s not really about getting somewhere; it’s about going anywhere. Something about that heat rolling up through the floor from the engine that roars in my ears, mixing with the cool air whipping in from the open window. I have to have my right arm out the window, waving in the speed created wind, the sun visible on my skin—trying to coax out more freckles. My feet somehow make it up onto the dashboard as I ride along, the music turned up so we can hear it over the engine hum.

I can feel the road under us; feel the thrum of the engine up my spine, and my teeth clatter every time we bounce over railroad tracks. My hair blows out around me and I continually have to tuck it behind my ear as I sing along to the classic rock pouring out of the radio. This is summer and I pity the poor souls at stoplights stuck in their little plastic cars riding low over the ground with their windows up, as the truck lumbers past them with summer on our tires.