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.

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