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August 10, 2002
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The Brits appear more concerned about 20-somethings and floundering young people than their American counterparts. They acknowledge that replacing grants with debt has a downside: "Students who fear getting into debt are also more likely to suffer from depression."
posted by sheauga (49 comments total)

 
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posted by sheauga at 9:07 AM on August 10, 2002


Interesting links. Whilst we might be concerned, it doesn't mean the government here in the UK has actually done anything about it. The hypocrisy they've demonstrated by on the one hand attacking elitism in universities whilst on the other supporting a system that heavily discriminates against students from low-income families is admirable. Having said that, this from today perhaps offers some hope for a return to common sense. Although that may be asking a little too much. As for this...

"Thousands dance the night away to cheesy pop, decked out in uniform: school ties, shorts for the boys and short skirts for the girls."

... I'm scared.
posted by zygoticmynci at 9:57 AM on August 10, 2002


As a 20 something who's going to grad school and has $16,000 in debt i understand the feeling of being worried by my debt, but the choices i made in college made me sure that i'll be able to eventually pay it off. Yes, the cost of going to school is ridiculous, but many schools still offer excellent financial aid (and if you can't get the aid you go to a different school)....unless your parents make about 50-80 thousand. For me, i was able to go to a private school (tufts at $32,000 a year) BECAUSE my dad was unemployed at the time i applied, and most of the other people i know who's parents are worse off were also able to get enough financial aid.
I think the real problem are those people who's parents have just enough not to get financial aid, but not enough to throw money at the school and children. Of course, there are also those parents who have enough to let tier kids live like little princesses and princes. I think it's the last two groups that get in trouble, as they are the ones who never recognize how much money is going into their education and how much they need to take from it.
I've always felt that many students look at school as camp, and then act surprised when four years of farking around doesn't get them a 70k a year job. However, those who apply themselves and work hard at what they do understand that life can be hard (ie: you can be in debt with a low interest loan) and yet you can still make it through.

my apologies for the rant
posted by NGnerd at 10:06 AM on August 10, 2002


Well, when you have a Labour government that phases in tuition fees, led by quite a few people who got their leg-up in life through free university education and maintenance grants, it's quite easy to see why today's students might think it unfair. Of course, it makes my complaints against Thatcher freezing the grant seem trivial.

(I'm sure we're going to have Americans suggesting that students should 'get jobs'. Most British universities don't let you work while you're an undergraduate, unless they're crappy 'polyversities' offering degrees in dog grooming. And the only loans you're likely to get these days, beyond the necessary overdraft, are from the SLC, and I wouldn't want to live and study in London now, when the maximum loan is £4,815 a year, and about half of that will go in rent.)
posted by riviera at 10:08 AM on August 10, 2002


As a post-20-something and former floundering-young-person, I say fuck 'em.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:14 AM on August 10, 2002


Most British universities don't let you work while you're an undergraduate, unless they're crappy 'polyversities' offering degrees in dog grooming.

Someone really should tell the higher education minister about that one.
posted by zygoticmynci at 10:33 AM on August 10, 2002


My problem with forcing students to get hugely in debt is that graduate jobs don't necessarily pay much. If you work in publishing, book publishing in particular, you're unlikely to ever earn as much as a train driver or a plumber. It took me 5 yrs to pay back my debt and it was only £3k. Fuck knows what I'd do if it was £15k.
posted by Summer at 10:36 AM on August 10, 2002


my crippling debt burden (coupled with the knowledge that i'm not going to be able to meaningfully pay it off for years) makes me very depressed... and seriously limits my freedom.

do i take a low-paying job i love but that does not pay me enough to live on and contribute towards debt reduction or do i take a high-paying job i hate just to get out from under sallie mae and citibank's collective thumb?

i'm not crying 'conspiracy', but the debt-education tradeoff is such that it all but coerces one to be part of a stable workforce for the first fifteen years following graduation. want to save up some money, quit your job and travel? impossible. nearly impossible to save but if you manage to even do that, how are you supposed to make debt payments while traveling?

was it my decision to assume this burden? yes. but most young people, at the time they're entering college/uni, don't have any idea of the long-term repercussions of doing so. had i known realistically what it means to be tens of thousands of dollars in debt, i might have explored alternative options more aggressively.
posted by mlang at 11:32 AM on August 10, 2002


mlang: this came up in a recent post. I didn't really notice any effort to educate kids in my high school about debbt and student loans. Pre-university seems like the right time to teach kids about this stuff, but that is when they are basically being coached to attend the "best possible school" in pursuit of $100,000 anthropology degrees.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:29 PM on August 10, 2002


Well sometimes you're also stuck as a student whose parents are not rich enough to guarantee they can help solving the 'debt' if their child cannot give the money back.

But sometimes, scholarships (which in reality are not) it's even more insidious... I'm talking for France because i know the system better, but...
If you are an excellent student, and the VT decides to help you with a scholarship, you have to accept to apply to certain and selected schools, even if it's not what you wanted in the first place (i.e. School of Magistrature, School of Law, Medicine).
Basically they don't want to waste any talents, but their restrictions are amazingly stupid imho.

It's either that, or giving the money back, or work 5 years for the public function.

Sorry for the rant too.
posted by Sijeka at 12:36 PM on August 10, 2002


I'm always looking for an opportunity to say this: U.S. students, if you're on need-based financial aid like a Stafford loan, DO NOT GET A JOB during school to supplement it. The following year your financial aid will have subtracted (practically) the amount of money you made the previous year, requiring that you keep your job just to stay at the financial level you had before you got the job. Then you're stuck working your way through college, which means less (if any) study time, less sleep, and lower test scores.

Some people have to work their way through college anyway, I'm sorry to say. But if you have enough aid to just squeek by without getting a job, and any of it is need-based, avoid a job. It's better to be poor and actually get something out of school than be poor and waste the tuition money on classes you don't have time to pass.

(I'll admit I was a terrible student, but if I didn't have to work I would have had time to compensate. Or has this only happened to me?)
posted by dan_of_brainlog at 12:52 PM on August 10, 2002


"Pre-university seems like the right time to teach kids about this stuff, but that is when they are basically being coached to attend the "best possible school" in pursuit of $100,000 anthropology degrees."

...That is so right. I've always thought the year before Uni. might be the most important in a student's life, yet nothing's really done to be really helpful to them (i.e. really good, down to earth counseling).

Many students i know had to stop Uni after two years because some people simply gave them the wrong advices.
posted by Sijeka at 1:03 PM on August 10, 2002


I've given up trying to figure out what kind of crack the scholorship boards at the universities over here are smoking. My one surviving parent has no income at all, and I still can't get anything at all. It's probably because they want me to take out loans... ugh...

I might have to put off going to university for a few years now because I refuse to mortgage my future like that.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:28 PM on August 10, 2002


dan_of_brainlog: I'm always looking for an opportunity to say this: U.S. students, if you're on need-based financial aid like a Stafford loan, DO NOT GET A JOB during school to supplement it. The following year your financial aid will have subtracted (practically) the amount of money you made the previous year, requiring that you keep your job just to stay at the financial level you had before you got the job.

True, and I would add, based on my own experience: Don't make too much money at the job you have the year before you take out the loan, either. That, or save a lot of the money you're making.

I was working at M$, making 40something thousand per year, which is not really a lot, but was the most I had ever made. Happy to finally be able to support myself in a comfortable lifestyle without my parents' help, I spent the money, not frivolously, but on what seemed a reasonable lifestyle for someone making that amount of money. But I wasn't happy in my job, and when I got into grad school, I left Seattle with close to no savings, and of course, I had to quit my job. Woe to me when I found that I was ineligible for a lot of need-based financial aid because the previous year I had been making a decent amount of money (and that was the only year in my life that I have). A year later, having, of course, not worked for a year, as I'd been in grad school full-time, I was suddenly eligible for as much money as many of my classmates.

Still, I'm close to $100,000 in debt now, so I guess I did okay in the long run.
posted by bingo at 3:02 PM on August 10, 2002


I think it's great that the UK is dropping its socialist ways one by one, and actually making people pay.

I mean, come on.. school fees in the UK are TINY. Students whine over a pitiful $2000 a year 'tuition fee' while students in the US have to often fork out ten times as much!

The problem isn't the price, it's the fact that back in the 70s and 80s, the parents of these students believed the government would provide a university education for their kids.. so they didn't bother saving. When the government changed the rules, their kids were screwed, and now they need to work their asses off to pay the bills. Oh, and let's not forget that going to university is NOT some God-given right, while we're at it.

Lastly, depression is a disease. It's not just 'oh I feel like shit and I hate paying my bills'. To lump these students in with people who are suffering mental torture is an insult.
posted by wackybrit at 3:21 PM on August 10, 2002


wackybrit, one pays "school fees" if one goes to Eton. One doesn't pay "school fees" if one goes to university, because university isn't school. Pandering to the linguistic quirks of Americans isn't really that endearing, you know? Especially when this one is pretty revealing about the standards of universities in the States.

And your 'feckless parents' argument is straight out of the Daily Mail. Were the government to privatise the NHS tomorrow, would we all deserve your sneers for not having bothered signing up with BUPA? Bollocks.
posted by riviera at 3:45 PM on August 10, 2002


Riviera: I agree, and you've misinterpreted what I said. I was actually blaming the government for making an instant switch without any warning. How were parents to know to save in the 80s? So I agree with you that the parents are not to blame.

That said.. if you can't afford to go to university, YOU SHOULDN'T GO! I can't afford a Porsche.. but do I have a right to one? University is hardly an 'essential' these days.. it's just a luxury.

And this is to everyone, not just you Riviera, but enough of the whining about US vs UK English! US English is the default dialect on the Web, and it is the one that I use! Get used to it.
posted by wackybrit at 3:54 PM on August 10, 2002


psst..."wackybrit" is Andrew Sullivan...
posted by goethean at 4:23 PM on August 10, 2002


That said.. if you can't afford to go to university, YOU SHOULDN'T GO! I can't afford a Porsche.. but do I have a right to one? University is hardly an 'essential' these days.. it's just a luxury

I beg of you to find me a way to get approved for home loans, get a career and promotions within that career, and be able to provide comfort for my future family, all without getting a college degree and not enlisting. Please. I really want to move out of my parents house soon.

A porsche is not essential to upward mobility in the business world. Have I been lied to in believing higher education is? I'm not being snarky, just exasperated.
posted by Homeskillet Freshy Fresh at 4:43 PM on August 10, 2002


I always thought the idea behind loans and grants was to help students go to school because a well educated populace benefits everyone. So, the whole "if you can't afford to go, don't go" theory could be used to negate all forms of financial aid.

If people can't afford an education, you can pretty much kiss today's middle class goodbye, and I don't think many governments want that tax base to disappear.

One thing not mentioned is the lack of support for part-time students. If you are willing to add a couple of years to your studies and work, you'd better earn enough to live on because there's very little aid. I'd like to see that change.
posted by Salmonberry at 4:51 PM on August 10, 2002



A porsche is not essential to upward mobility in the business world. Have I been lied to in believing higher education is?


Why don't you ask the richest man in the world?
posted by gyc at 4:51 PM on August 10, 2002


(I meant not mentioned in the discussion...I know it's the crux of the article....)
posted by Salmonberry at 4:52 PM on August 10, 2002


I beg of you to find me a way to get approved for home loans, get a career and promotions within that career, and be able to provide comfort for my future family, all without getting a college degree and not enlisting.

At least 108 members of The Forbes 400 Wealthiest Americans never graduated from college.

Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Michael Dell, Larry Ellison, David Geffen, Steve Jobs, Bob Pittman, Stephen Spielburg and Marilyn vos Savant do not have degrees, yet consider their intelligence/wealth! The difference is.. these people did not want a 'career'.. they got off their asses and made of themselves what they wanted.

Then again, I guess if you're not really a grafter or don't have any business savvy, then university is probably the way to go.

I always thought the idea behind loans and grants was to help students go to school because a well educated populace benefits everyone.

You're right, and I was exaggerating a little to make a point. However.. a well educated populace might be a good thing.. but a populace full of entrepreneurs and those who don't need university to be smart is far better!
posted by wackybrit at 6:44 PM on August 10, 2002


It's not a solution for everyone, but it worked for me....I got a clerical job at a medium-sized company just after my junior year of high school. I worked full time that Summer, then part time during my senior year. I went back to full time after graduation, because the company offered full tuition reimbursement for college courses (including books) if you earned a "C" average or better.

It took me six years of going to night classes at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, but I got my degree and it didn't cost me. It's tough, but it's worth looking into for some students.
posted by Oriole Adams at 6:57 PM on August 10, 2002


Oriole: Absolutely. I've always found that people who got degrees that way (as an adult, while working) typically come out of the experience with a lot more practical knowledge than those who do the immediate post-high-school learnin' camp thing. Even if they ended up going to a less prestigous university. An educated populace certainly sounds nice, but a populace with perspective and life experience to accompany their knowledge of postmodernism and Mendel would also be pretty sweet.

riviera: is the distinction between a "college" and a "university" lost on the British, and if so, does this make it meaningless in the first place?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 7:31 PM on August 10, 2002


riviera: is the distinction between a "college" and a "university" lost on the British, and if so, does this make it meaningless in the first place?

Eton is properly called "Eton College." In England, the term refers both to a subset of a larger university (the various Oxford, Cambridge, and University of London "colleges") and to what Americans would call a high school.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:39 PM on August 10, 2002


However.. a well educated populace might be a good thing.. but a populace full of entrepreneurs and those who don't need university to be smart is far better!

Well, the less intelligent certainly won't be getting any more intelligent by going to a university, no. However, the last time I checked, not going to university did not exactly do wonderful things for one's earning capacity (google cache), entrepreneurs aside.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:55 PM on August 10, 2002


from the BBC article "Pana Tanden is 21, has just graduated in neuroscience, and is worried that despite her degree, she'll only find a low paid job"

Um, well, yes. I know that a degree doesn't guarantee a job, but the *type* of degree you choose can help. Neuro is good for academia or med school, not for high paid jobs just out of school. My best friend has a degree in computer science and a programming job with a healthy bank account. She would have preferred to major in classics when we were in college. I'm all for fulfilling intellectual curiousity, but it's often a luxury with a cost that new students don't seem to understand.
posted by synapse at 7:56 PM on August 10, 2002


thomas j wise: A degree can increase your earning capacity, but it is not that simple. Synapse is right on here. I am pointlessly, terminally in debt for a "top-ten" degree yet am constantly losing jobs to people with mail-order AA's in business administration. Granted, I've got a better chance of getting into a "good" grad school than they do, but I will feel like a sucker until then.

I always used to joke with my mother that when I was done with college I would just get hired on with one of the big anthropology firms. Life would be easier now if she knew I was kidding.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 8:03 PM on August 10, 2002


That said.. if you can't afford to go to university, YOU SHOULDN'T GO! I can't afford a Porsche.. but do I have a right to one? University is hardly an 'essential' these days.. it's just a luxury.

Bullshit.

but most young people, at the time they're entering college/uni, don't have any idea of the long-term repercussions of doing so. had i known realistically what it means to be tens of thousands of dollars in debt, i might have explored alternative options more aggressively.

Not only that, but I see the lack of education done in high school and college about credit is one of the greatest failings of our society. I had no idea the implications my tremendous debt after college was going to have on my life nor how much being late on a few credit card payments would effect my finances. I got a job making 50k in the midwest which was pretty damn good for a 21 year old guy. I worked two years, was able to do almost nothing to my debt, then the bubble burst and I got layed off. Now I have a huge debt, questionable credit and am unemployed. I'm am sure I will pull around (and the family helps) but if I had taken one class in college or high school about credit and personal finances I think I would have made vastly different choices during my college years.
posted by McBain at 8:21 PM on August 10, 2002


Bullshit.

This gets my award for the best developed and thought out point made on MetaFilter. My point: 'University is hardly an 'essential' these days' is easily provable, McBain. I know scores of people who are successful and didn't go to university. Therefore, it is not 'essential'. Awaiting your next word of wisdom..
posted by wackybrit at 9:05 PM on August 10, 2002


"It is a luxury" and "You shouldn't go if you can't afford it" are bullshit generalizations as much as "College is essential" (which I never said). Awaiting your next brilliant rebuttal.
posted by McBain at 9:54 PM on August 10, 2002


Besides, Homeskillet Freshy Fresh raised decent questions, which you ignored for the easy target.
posted by McBain at 9:56 PM on August 10, 2002


blah blah blah do not have degrees, yet consider their intelligence/wealth! The difference is.. these people did not want a 'career'

No, they wanted money. And the unfortunate situation many people find themselves in is getting pigeonholed into a certain area of expertise, putting all their eggs into one basket hoping for a payoff. That's why we have actual careers, without empty quotation marks.

Does anyone have statistics on the level of formal education of the employees of Ellison, Gates, or Geffen? Just winging it here, but I'm assuming most have college degrees.

'University is hardly an 'essential' these days' is easily provable

Essential for what group? If I were serious about making a movie, writing a book, or painting a landscape I would want my talents critiqued. For many people, college is the place to get that done. My advertising portfolio looks great, but it doesn't get respect until I have a degree next to it. A person's work history may be great, but if they haven't been properly trained on the trade a business practices and how to manage that business, they stand a good chance of not having a decent salary. Advancement goes to those who have the best qualifications, handsome rich white males notwithstanding.

If you have friends who've never experienced college and have still come out on top in life, great for them. I applaud people who can do that. In some fields that can work, and I will always love people succeeding without kowtowing to the man. Yet while only a few can theoretically recognize opportunities when they come, a few less can realistically capitalize on them. Even fewer get any long-standing revenue out of the entrepreneurship.

Granted, I know I'm going to college so I can get an internship or hopefully -- I can dream -- a low paying entry-level job. But I believe that's better than where I'd be without a degree.

That's not due to a lack of business savvy, mind you, but due to a desire to make more money. I need a 'career' so I can have a 'life,' a creature that is fed only by legal tender. You don't need to insult me, just enlighten me. If it's not bullshit, give me something other than a few examples outside the statistical norm. I really want to believe you, honest.
posted by Homeskillet Freshy Fresh at 10:32 PM on August 10, 2002


McBain: You stated "You shouldn't go if you can't afford it" to be bullshit.

In a capitalist society, if you can't afford something, you don't do it. Simple as that. No bullshit involved. If you live in a socialist or communist country, I renege my comments and humbly apologize. Now, onto Homeskillet..

You don't need to insult me

I don't think I have. If you believe so, then sorry, but I am just blunt.

Essential for what group?

Okay, okay, I admit it. University/college is absolutely essential for a number of groups, such as medical professionals, lawyers, certain engineers, and a fistful of extremely niche industries that you can't get in to without a degree.

Out of my circle of friends, only two have degrees. (Note: I have more than two friends - somehow ;-)) Neither have jobs.

On the other hand, the majority of my friends quit school at 16, 17 or 18 (bear in mind, this is the UK) and now have pretty solid careers as project managers, software developers, and all sorts. They didn't need degrees (or even good high school educations) to get those jobs. This is where my comments come from. Bear in mind, too, that I am of the lower middle classes, where university attendance is still rather low.

I can see the appeal of university, sure, and if that's where you need to go, then do it. When it comes to life, I am quite laid back (believe it or not) and dollars mean less to me than taking it easy and doing what I want to do.

University is less important to those of us who want to live in relative peace and harmony, than those who want to live in a rat race for 40 years and join the country club a few years before they die.

I guess I have to respect that some people want to be in the rat race, and that the American rat race requires you to have wasted more than three years in an institution learning how to be a wage slave. It's just not for me.
posted by wackybrit at 10:49 PM on August 10, 2002


Whoops, sorry wackybrit. I missed that post, but I still don't find your answers satisfactory.
posted by McBain at 10:54 PM on August 10, 2002


Part of the point you are missing is that (at least in America) we are told that we MUST go to college (it is the American Dream) and that the US Dept of Education is there to help us do it. Well, they may as well be Citibank or anyone else. I know I got my first job based soley on the fact that I have a Computer Science degree. But now that it hasn't panned out that well my options are limited because I HAVE TO PAY BACK THE LOAN or else I can fuck my credit for life and the implications of that were never really taught to me. Yes there are plenty of talented people out there who do well without degrees, but if can you really say that on the whole people without degrees do better than people with them? Some economists will tell you that the greatest single investment you can make in life, better than the stock market or bonds or anything, is your own education.
posted by McBain at 11:01 PM on August 10, 2002


>In a capitalist society, if you can't afford something, you don't do it. Simple as that. No bullshit involved. If you live in a socialist or communist country, I renege my comments and humbly apologize. Now, onto Homeskillet..

Then almost no one would ever go to college. Few would buy homes or cars either, because for the middle class there is no guarantee your job will be there tomorrow. Then where is your capitalist economy?
posted by McBain at 11:04 PM on August 10, 2002


solid careers as project managers, software developers, and all sorts

in the US, most of those sorts of jobs require a college degree. I've had a few friends & co-workers to come out pretty well without, but they've often had additional struggles for professional respect.

if a capitalist society requires a certain level of education, then it will find a way to build it into the society. my understanding is that that's what happened with universal high school education (in the US, anyway), and it's happening with college as well. unfortunately, it's happening with massive personal debt rather than public funding.
posted by epersonae at 11:54 PM on August 10, 2002


University is less important to those of us who want to live in relative peace and harmony, than those who want to live in a rat race for 40 years and join the country club a few years before they die.

The rat race is more important to people with responsibilities than to those without. This rat race is a way to provide for your loved ones. This rat race is a way to live comfortably in something other than squalid splendor. This rat race, for some people, is a ticket to a better life.

The one thing this rat race is not, however, is a roadblock to emotional and spiritual fulfillment. This may just be my personal opinion, if I'm wrong feel free to tell me, but I see more pretentious navel-gazing philosopher name-dropping twenty-somethings in college than I do outside of it.

You are not someone to summarize the aspirations of all college students. Some of us are trying to join society, not a country club.

When it comes to life, I am quite laid back (believe it or not) and dollars mean less to me than taking it easy and doing what I want to do.

I don't exactly know how things are run in the UK, but here in the US you often can't hold those views and be past the age of 18.

So if the point of my argument is that college is important if you want to get desirable jobs in the business world, and you have no desire to get anywhere in the business world, then this whole thing is pointless. We should start to talk about pancakes.

epersonae, I completely agree with you.

McBain, that can't be your story. I called dibs.
posted by Homeskillet Freshy Fresh at 12:45 AM on August 11, 2002


Does anyone have statistics on the level of formal education of the employees of Ellison, Gates, or Geffen? Just winging it here, but I'm assuming most have college degrees.

I know that Gates himself dropped out of college. My brother, a highly-paid network engineer who did contract work for MS and a number of other major tech companies, dropped out of college too. I worked for MS for two years myself, and while I finished college, I can tell you that it certainly is not a job requirement there, if you have the skills.

The one thing this rat race is not, however, is a roadblock to emotional and spiritual fulfillment. This may just be my personal opinion, if I'm wrong feel free to tell me, but I see more pretentious navel-gazing philosopher name-dropping twenty-somethings in college than I do outside of it.

Isn't this an argument against getting a university education? Aren't the people you're talking about trying to join the rat race?

I don't exactly know how things are run in the UK, but here in the US you often can't hold those views and be past the age of 18.

Chalk up one 31 year-old American who disagrees with you. Of course, a lot of money would do a great deal to free me up to "take it easy and doing what I want to do." But I have a bachelor's degree and a master's degree, and to be honest, I often think I should have just dropped out of high school and started working. The things I really want to do don't require a degree, I usually learn more and faster reading on my own than going to school, and most of it was a waste of time.
posted by bingo at 1:27 AM on August 11, 2002


Ahem...

Okay, so I think my story is pretty relevant to this thread, so I'll tell it, probably in a lot more detail than you want to know.

I'm almost twenty-one and heading into my fourth year of college. I am fortunate to attend a university which offers a significant amount of need-based financial aid in the form of grants and scholarships. My mother is a schoolteacher-- my parents are divorced-- and as such she cannot afford to contribute to my education. Luckily, about 75 to 80 per cent of my costs are covered through grants; the rest are with student loans. I will graduate with a significant amount of debt, but it will not be unmanageable.

The college experience is very important, at least for me, to the whole situation, as well. College has very much been a journey of self-discovery. For starters, I moved from a backwater town (as I like to say, it's a city of 80,000, with enough amenities and culture for 8,000) to a major metropolitan area; the change, and the opportunities afford me, as a result of living right in the middle of an urban area, are immeasurable.

The people I have met along the way have also helped shape my experience. Small towns breed small minds, and I had very few friends in high school; here, the situation is quite the reverse. I've met people from disparate walks of life, with very diverse interests, and they have enriched my lives since I have been here.

Being that I am pretty much fully responsible for my own education and financing it, I have been freed from most expectations and from all pressures to major in a certain area or pursue a certain career. Fortunate, because when I have had to fight through the bad times-- I've battled depression and a drinking problem, among other things, since I've been here-- I have been able to step back for a bit and deal with them; to drop to a lower class load and work on my problems rather than feel pressured to push through college to get that engineering degree. It is fortunate as well because it has enabled me to take a greater variety of courses, and settle on something I truly loved.

When I came into school, I intended to major in computer science, because I liked computers and wanted to make money. I was on this path until about a year and a half through, when I realized what I liked was using computers, and specifically the Internet, and not programming. (I do like web design, but it's not something a degree is required for and, at least here, isn't even something they really teach in school.) With that in mind, I abandoned that program as I tried to find some other subject that fit me.

I wavered between a few things-- considering Sports Management was probably my longest flirtation with anything else-- but it was around a year after that I decided I really wanted to become a rock star. Obviously, not something college is designed for-- except that the people I met in college who shared similar tastes in music as I did and turned me on to really good music in a way I never had been before helped shape that desire and let it take form, as well. Of course, I also realized that I would probably have to be able to do something else, if that didn't work. (So far, it hasn't.) So I continued to take a variety of courses.

Last semester I took a writing workshop that was one of the best experiences of my life. I write a lot-- in both volume and frequency-- and I'd kept a webpage for a while where I wrote, but had never thought about it as anything serious to pursue. (My brother was always the writer in the family; I wrote good papers, but telling stories was another matter, as you're learning if you've made it this far.) So this workshop gave me a chance to write two essays and have the class work on and discuss them. And to my surprise, they loved them-- and it was at this point that I decided, hey, maybe I can do this for a living. Maybe I am good enough at it. So I changed my major to English, and I've narrowed it down now to musician and writer-- and I'm going to see where each path takes me in the next year.

What irks me the most about college are the science and engineering majors who feel the liberal arts are a waste of time, a bone thrown to "pretentious navel-gazing philosopher name-dropping", as it has been better phrased than I could. (The common joke: "I majored in Liberal Arts. By the way, would you like fries with that?") Of course, my reaction to these people is that most of them spent $100,000 to go to a glorified trade school. Meanwhile, I've discovered something about who I am, what it is I really want to do and really care about, moved to a place and met people that have both really enriched my life, and in the end, I'll still be able to get a job doing something, because I will have a degree. (Sure, unlike the chemical engineering major who knows he'll be a chemical engineer, I may not be sure what I will be doing at first. But I'll find a job, and in the meantime I can work on what I really want to do with my life.)

Not everyone has this opportunity. But college has taken me places where I never would've gone without it, taught me things inside and outside of the classroom, and I am thankful every day for it.

(Whew. That's all. Hope some of it is relevant.)
posted by nath at 2:27 AM on August 11, 2002


".. if you can't afford to go to university, YOU SHOULDN'T GO! "

That scares me for others reasons. This would mean that the 'school's free until you're 16" is kind of worthless and useless.
What's the use of spending time and money to educate young masses, if at the end you have to tell the more talented (and v. poor ones) that they have to find a job right after graduation, and forget about their dreams/capacities/potential just because they don't have any money?

In this case, why bother? Just take all the (somehow poor) middle class children, teach 'em to read and write, and then send 'em to the factory, they won't have enough money to go to Uni anyway...

Also, I thought our European countries were quite concerned these days about he lack of great scientists, artists, doctors, journalists, ect?

And after they keep wondering why more than 60 % of the Nobel Prizes are from the US?
posted by Sijeka at 6:13 AM on August 11, 2002


I couldn't reply last night, since for some reason my service crashed. And, in any event, most people have already hit on the points I was going to make. To add, however:

1. UK/US requirements for employment differ substantially across the board. Most of our students are in college because they cannot escape the non-/low-skill labor pool in our area unless they have at least some college experience. Historically, the UK has never expected more than a minority to go to university, although this is a trend that clearly seems to be changing.
2. I agree, in point of fact, that insisting that Everyone Must Go To College devalues the entire experience (but see #1). One might add that we now have the problem of degree creep, so to speak: because the BA has become so common, it now requires an MA to actually stand out. I don't quite see PhDs becoming "common currency," given that it takes so long to get one (although not necessarily in the sciences).
3. On the credit issue: I think part of the problem is that our parents, who were often first-generation university students, experienced a massive increase in their standard of living after graduation. We, on the other hand, almost always saw our standard of living decrease, usually quite substantially. (My first job after finishing my PhD was at a university press, where I earned a whopping $14,000 or so.) People tend to spend according to how they grew up, I suspect, and not according to present realities.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:14 AM on August 11, 2002


first off, nath thanks for the story, i'm on the other end of the scale (read pompous engineer going for MS) and i'd agree that the ability to spread out one's interests is the best part of the university system. I think people have to go for the careers which feel right for them, and that they have to accept that what they love may not lead them to financial freedom. Both of my parents are social workers and get paid shit, but it's a job they love because it fulfills them on other levels.

The other problem most people are missing is that (at least in the US) the economy is no longer industrial. There are no factory jobs that you can work at for life having a high school degree or less, and other then programmer or construction worker there just aren't many fields that allow a person to support a family.

Maybe the lessen we should be teaching high school students is due what you love but understand that it's a double edged sword which can effect you in the future.
posted by NGnerd at 10:04 AM on August 11, 2002


(An aside: You know, I have to say that this thread has turned into one of the best, and most civil, discussions I've read on MeFi for a long long time!)

if a capitalist society requires a certain level of education, then it will find a way to build it into the society. my understanding is that that's what happened with universal high school education (in the US, anyway), and it's happening with college as well. unfortunately, it's happening with massive personal debt rather than public funding.

You might be on the money with this. I believe what you're saying is that previously, an education up to age 18 has been enough, and the government has paid for that. But now, we need to be educated to the age of 21, but the government has not followed suit and refuses to fund it.

That said, we know that many 14-18 year olds in school really don't enjoy it and learn little. Shouldn't the smarter kids be taking degrees at 16 and upwards? Currently we don't do it much because of the social problems of throwing a 16 year old in with 20 year olds.. but if we made the educational system more efficient so that LOTS of 16 year olds were starting to study for degrees.. the country would be better off!

This rat race is a way to provide for your loved ones. This rat race, for some people, is a ticket to a better life.

You make some splendid points, but I have to disagree, at least from a British perspective.

I left school after graduating high school at 16 (that's what we do in the UK), and was planning to attend college in the fall (even though I absolutely hated school). I got a summer job, and ended up joining the workforce instead! To start with it was fun, but...

At age 17, I was earning $30k pa and I HATED IT. Perhaps I am just an oddball, but after a year of that, I realized that the rat race is fine if you don't mind being bossed around, working for at least 50% of your natural life, and feeling like a total loser all the time. Sure, you get your four weeks' vacation time, and the weekends off.. but other than that, you are a wage slave.. that is, unless you work for the 0.0001% of companies that have a good ambience and corporate philosophy!

I don't earn that sort of money anymore (I'm 21 now) but I work far less hours, I work for myself, and I generally enjoy what I do. I have no-one to answer to but myself. I have a higher standard of living, but less money. Yes, that is really possible.

Perhaps the rat race is good for some people, but.. it just felt like hell to me. Or maybe I just didn't find a job that really suited me? The only companies that could convince me to work full-time again would be Google or XPlane!

Oh well, at least now you can see why I am so jaded by it all, and I know I'm not really 'right', but I'm just saying that there is an alternative to society's inforced 'right way' of doing things.
posted by wackybrit at 3:08 PM on August 11, 2002


Not everyone has this opportunity. But college has taken me places where I never would've gone without it, taught me things inside and outside of the classroom, and I am thankful every day for it.

Well, that's great, and I don't mean to devalue your experience, but speaking as someone who quit after one year of college (at 15), just because I've not got a degree doesn't mean I haven't learned things, or been 'taken places.' Those of us who quit school haven't just been sitting our our collective asses lamenting our sorry fate, you know; we too have had experiences, met friends, moved around, discovered new interests.

I agree with wackybrit; a college degree is a luxury, not a necessity. I'd like to have a degree; however, considering that my career of choice (librarian/archivist) requires a graduate degree and that the average salary is around $30K, I can't justify going that far into debt for it, or putting my life on hold for another four years. So I make less money, but I manage to eat, go out, live in a decent apartment in a fairly nice small city. I can't blow $200 on a PlayStation (not that I'd want to) at the drop of a hat, but then, I owe no money to anyone, either. I work six-hour days at an interesting, skilled job with good people that I actually look forward to going to in the morning. Yet people continually try to tell me how I must be living in squalor and starvation because I don't have a degree.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 5:01 PM on August 11, 2002


Right oh - There are two issues raised by wackybrit's posts. 1) Do you need a degree for every/most jobs. No - and I think in that respect his comments are valid. Since Labour came to power they have been trying to increase the number of people going to Uni for various reasons - importantly to keep many of the dole for 3/4 more years. Indeed many of Wackybrit's comments were echoed recently by the UK's Istitute of Directors. I'd agree with that part of his argument. Too many kids are conned into wasting tonnes of money time on University.

But I'd take real issue with 2) That therefore the rich should be the only people who go to university. I'm a Tory for crying out loud and I don't agree with that. If you want to live in a society where all lawyers, doctors, priests, accountants etc are from the upper classes you're welcome to argue for it. But since the Medieval period poor able kids have been encouraged to got to university and subsidised to do so, to the benefit of society.


So what's the solution - in this country we must cut back the number of pointless waste of time courses, which require little qualification/ aptitude and offer little benefit on completion. We must also develop a good vocational alternative to universities and 6th forms.


posted by prentiz at 2:33 AM on August 12, 2002


But I'd take real issue with 2) That therefore the rich should be the only people who go to university. I'm a Tory for crying out loud and I don't agree with that.

So you'd be rather shocked to learn that I'm a liberal.

If you want to live in a society where all lawyers, doctors, priests, accountants etc are from the upper classes you're welcome to argue for it. But since the Medieval period poor able kids have been encouraged to got to university and subsidised to do so, to the benefit of society.

Why does it benefit society if a poor kid becomes a doctor rather than a middle class one? It doesn't. Say we need X doctors.. who cares where they come from?

In my line of work, some better equipment and some Prada suits to impress the clients would do me good, but I don't expect the taxpayer to trump up for them. If I really want them, I will have to work my ass off to afford them.

The same goes for university. If you're poor but you really need to go there for your desired occupation.. I think that if you really want to end up with that job, you will do whatever it takes to pay your way through university. The current system encourages all and sundry to go and study at university, which ruins the system for those who really need to be there.

Universities should be for the tiny minority of the population who definitely need degrees to get jobs, not to bring all of the masses to a specified level of intelligence. That should be the job of the high/secondary schools.

Good professors and good universities are in short supply. Let's not suck up these professors' time with students who are only there for the free ride. Let's make people pay their way, and see only the truly gifted in university.
posted by wackybrit at 12:14 AM on August 14, 2002


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