The image below is a metaphorical representation of the United State’s higher learning agenda.
At the head we have universities, corporations, businesses, financial ventures, and other individuals who control the colleges of the United States. Their mission is to lure students into their jaws and bite down. From there, they raise tuition prices, trick students into accepting loans, tack on enormous interest rates, and feed on the students for all they’re worth. At the end of the day, their haul is over a trillion dollars! Quite a profit.
The tail end being devoured represents the generation of young adults who are graduating high school and starting their lives. They don’t see just how broken and backwards of a system they are about to commit 4+ years of their lives towards, and what kind of an awful state it will leave them in thereafter.
Make no mistake, the job market is recovering from the devastating 2008 recession, but the caliber of jobs that are returning are largely not in specialized, well-paying fields. They are low-skill, grunt-labor jobs that don’t always require a college degree, (except for formality sake, in some cases.) That means many of the degrees which universities encourage students to pursue are in fact worthless, as it will do nothing but open the doors for even higher learning, sucking them further down the spiral. And that’s about it. Grad students are not the kings of the suckers, in fact most are pursuing excellent paths that will enrich us all. But some are there because they got a degree and realized the only thing they can do with it is to turn it into a masters and hope it comes to fruition.
I had a plan when I graduated Edina High School in 2007. I was going to major in psychology, then go to law school and become an attorney, just like my grandfather. But during my time at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus, I came to discover the field of psychology is one giant guessing game of theories and inferences with very little concrete facts. It’s job market opportunities are bleak at best, even for law school. It was at this time I started writing screenplays. Before I knew it, I was casting aside school work to polish my spec scripts (scripts you write for no pay with the intention of selling later). By the time I realized I wanted nothing more than to be a screenwriter, it was too late- I had already vested 2 1/2 years in school at the University of Minnesota. I could finish it out, or drop everything, transfer to UCLA, rack up 6 figures in debt, and hope it all paid off. Luckily screenwriting is not a field that requires a college degree. It requires talent. It requires you to be a relentlessly creative writer and have a connection of some sort (whether you forge it yourself or you know someone) to get into the film industry. At this point, I began to see college as a waste of my time, but I had so much time already invested in it, I decided to just pick a major that interested me, Japanese Studies. (I also predicted Hollywood is eventually going to turn to Japanese cartoons for big-screen adaptation material, so my major was not completely irrelevant.)
Today I write and produce with my company, Stone Arch Entertainment. I work closely on music videos, commercials, and films with my long time high school friend Tomas Aksamit of Future Frame Productions. Tomas is a director, cinematographer, editor, writer, and a producer who did not go to film school. Instead, he bought all the books a UCLA film class would have its students read and taught himself everything. He invested his college fund money into $50,000+ worth of film equipment. Because of this, the advantage he and I now have with our productions is unbelievable. He’s glad he never went to college, and frankly, I find that the most valuable things I learned at college were outside the classroom. It goes to show college is not this grandiose pre-requirement to success that society cracks it up to be. The old adage used to be go to college, get a good job, start a successful life. That is not the case any more. In regards to film school, a degree will most likely not land you a job. It will land you an internship, which you suffer through for years before you have a job. I find Tomas’s method to be an ingenious short cut to anyone considering a career in the film industry.
I graduated from the University of Minnesota in December 2012. In my home state, 70% of students graduate college with an average debt of $31,000, (and I’m right there in that statistic). From there, graduates are expected to get jobs and pay off their debts, or to go further down the spiral and continue on to grad school. No matter what they do, their student debt suffers an interest hike that is similar to a mafia shake down. The Great Lakes Borrower Service (the overseers of student debt in my region) are nice enough to work out repayment plans, but are curt to remind you the hole is only getting deeper. By delaying my repayment process a year, I incurred more than $2,500 of additional debt! As it stands, I have until next year to pay back my loans before they incur serious interest and, from there, could literally ruin my life. I suspect I am not alone.
Student loans are disgustingly easy to get. You can’t walk down a college campus without finding someone peddling or advocating loans. Once you get one, you’re trapped. They don’t just cover your books, they give you whatever dollar amount you request, up to a maximum figure sometimes north of $20,000. They pay your tuition and send you a check for the difference. So if you think “I’m in college, I’m strapped for cash, and I don’t really have time to hold down a job,” you will instead get a loan and then find yourself flushed with cash. The check comes with a mammoth 2000+ page small print book of all the rules which they expect you to read. In the fine print in the middle, I’m sure it says “you’re screwed, sucker.”
College prices are also skyrocketing out of control. When did the educational backbone of higher learning in this country become solely about money? When I first started at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2007, tuition was roughly $5,000 per semester for in-state students. When I graduated, it was pushing close to $10,000. That’s a 20% increase per year. It’s shocking to think a small collect interest group cares more about making money for themselves than for enriching the entire generation of American youngsters interested in pursing higher education. It seems they’ve not bothered to think about the consequences of what they are doing for future generations, and for the American college system as a whole.
And then there are the textbooks. I remember when I would discover that my class had a required hardback textbook, I would literally swear with anger. It meant that instead of paying $40 for a book, I’d be paying $140 or more. To add insult to injury, most buyback programs are a joke in themselves. For that very textbook, I’d be lucky to see 20% of my investment back, even if I kept the book in flawless condition. In fact, a number of books would be outdated by the end of the same semester (in Psychology especially.) Each semester, I’d buy between 10 and 20 textbooks and sometimes spend thousands. I imagine roughly $10,000 of my student debt is from overpriced textbooks. Now, most universities do offer rental services, charging a fraction of what the purchase price would be, but often times they do not stock every textbook for rent. I can honestly say there are some classes I chose not to take simply because I didn’t feel the need to spend $1,000 or more on the books. A learning curriculum should not be compromised in favor of profit.
A small group is bleeding an entire generation dry to get rich off of it, while simultaneously implement a damning system that will haunt the younger generation for years to come. Meanwhile, all across the globe in Europe, Asia, South America, and Australia, college prices are under control and the government often will pay for it. The only way an American can get this kind of benefit is if they volunteer their bodies and lives to the military. Given our track record, the military is not exactly the safest organization to be in right now. To be fair, there are scholarships available, but they are far and few between.
So what happens to the future of college when prices become so expensive, people cannot afford to go at all? To a degree, it’s already happening now. But further down the line, as all the other countries pass the United State’s position of student advancement, the United States will be the one who bares the damage. If we want to promote higher learning and the educational advancement of our younger generations, we need to stop thinking with dollar signs in our eyes and start thinking in regards to practicality and enriching the youth. An entire generation right now is incurring record debt with record interest rates, and we have yet to see the consequences. One only hopes that despite this dire outcome, a realistic solution is reached before cataclysmic damage can be inflicted —
The head eating the tail will finish its meal and kill the whole body.
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