Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What you REALLY should know about college and kitten pictures so you read it.

Are you a young adult, a teenager, or a parent? There are misconceptions that influence how we make major financial decisions that will have repercussions lasting a lifetime. 

"You can't get a good job unless you go to college." 
"Once you have a degree it's easy to find good paying jobs." 
"College makes you more marketable." 
"I can pay off the loans quickly. I won't have trouble paying them off." 
"Only screw ups or people who don't try can't find work after college."
"You can't get anywhere without a degree." 

Sounding familiar? Thinking these statements are correct? WRONG. 

Before deciding what to do after high school, or in life before taking the next career development step it is important to get the details. The small print that you aren't taught to look for. Sales depend on the buyer being caught up in the dazzle and the "of course, you won't have any difficulty and you'll end up better for the price paid or the loan signed." This is true of any sale whether it is a new cellphone contract, a new vehicle, purchasing a new home or choosing to buy an education. Colleges are businesses, their goal is to profit from selling you the education they offer. So they offer classes that sound hip and fun from "How to survive the Zombie Apocalypse" to "the Psychology of fear." These classes do not certify you in a skill, they do not add to your resume. I'm going to put the small print in large print for you: 

What does the program you are looking at certify you to do? 

How much more education is needed beyond the schooling you are considering, to obtain a high paying job in that field?

What are the mean and median incomes for people who have completed that program- and did they have to pay for further education or tests/ certifications beyond the costs mentioned? 

What support services does the college or program offer to help you build a resume, network with potential employers and do they offer you support even after you graduate or drop out? 

What is the ratio of graduates/ completed program students that are employed in the field they received the education/ training for versus unemployed, underemployed or employed in a different field? 

What percentage of students who completed the program are struggling with outstanding loans and difficulty finding employment? 

Why do the movies, why does society treat college like a second high school- encouraging young adults to drink heavily, focus on a social scene including sex and other recreational drugs rather than internships and externships? 

Why don't more programs have semesters where students studying in various programs go out and work in the field rather than just completing classwork and thesis? Without experience, can you really know that the field you are studying is one you want to work in? 

Why aren't students taught about student loan debt issues in this country? Why don't they have to read that the current administration has put a 25 year cap on student loan repayment and why aren't they made aware of the percentages of people in this country who have gone to college and graduate school who have defaulted loans? 

What is the price of having a loan default and how does it happen? 

Vague answers, generic handouts with nonspecific information, enthusiastic and personable enrollment specialists whose role is to connect with you and to get you to sign the bottom line. This is what you face. 

We've created a monster by incorporating college into our perception of what is a necessary rite of passage into adulthood. We have done our society a disservice by choosing to believe that only someone with a degree has skills, then we become frustrated when they don't really have practical skills but they can parrot what they were told. 

Four year schools do not like to admit that you'll leave them with the ability to get the same pay, same jobs as the person next to you who didn't sign student loan papers but sought work after high school. There are a few degrees that are exceptions to this general rule, but they are more difficult programs that most students shy away from. 
They also tell you "this field is expected to grow, with an increase in employment opportunities" while not telling you that they and other colleges are saying that to thousands of potential students. Is the field supposed to grow enough to support an influx of thousands, or are you supposed to feel influenced by the Barnum effect here- that you are special and you have an RSVP on one of those possible jobs from possible expansion? Several friends back in the 1990s got degrees in computer science, a "growing field" which became so flooded that even low paying temp positions were being fought over like the last cookie in a group of dieters. 

Other friends worked toward and got degrees in education, only to find that they were required by law to obtain their Masters degrees within so many years. They signed the loans, did the extra classes and got the degrees and larger debt. That was when they learned that there was no pay increase with the Masters, and that teaching is not as lucrative as it once was. Classroom issues and pressures to teach for test taking rather than problem solving, initiative and teamwork building, accountability in students taking part of the process pushed both friends out of the field. They sought work in other venues, finding the field they thought they wanted to work in was nothing like the actual field they found themselves working in and they still had the loans to repay. 

I received a Bachelors in Psychology with Honors (the Honors meant extra classes but doesn't mean anything on my resume- small print again); my first job was in an independent living program. My pay was about ten dollars an hour; my loans were almost twenty thousand dollars. I still had to pay rent, utilities, buy food, car, car insurance, car maintenance and the cost of surviving while paying the loans. Students do not take the cost of life into account, and that's without the impulse buys or going out and spending money on things you like. The work I did had no relation to my education and within a week I learned that my coworkers all only had high school or two year degrees (even though the position claimed to require a bachelors) and that their pay was the same as mine. Their loans were less to nonexistent than mine, who was smarter?

After dealing with a glass ceiling for years, being turned down for promotions despite a five gold star work record at all of my jobs as my employers said "you can't be considered for management positions as you do not have a Masters degree." I looked into getting a Masters through an online program. 

Who regulates and mediates conflicts with colleges? Crickets and the College Review Board. Using the CRB is harder than translating a forgotten language while breathing water without gills and about as effective. 
The loans were huge. I thought I could pay them off in x number of years based on x income I could make. I did not take into account that not all employers recognize an online degree, that the degree would get pulled out from under me through a change in staffing. 

I signed the papers. I took the classes. I worked and I studied and I completed all assignments. The loans piled up. My employers still declined promotion options citing the online education as the reason. The college never discussed the possibility of that happening. They wanted the guarantee of my money. I switched employers. Still a glass ceiling. My thesis advisor resigned from the college two weeks before my thesis would have been reviewed and completed. My second was made my primary, it was rushed and I was encouraged to just go along so I would finish on time. I made the mistake of doing so. I signed the second to be my primary. Then I couldn't get any response from her until after the semester concluded. Even though she had been paid by the college to be on my thesis team, I learned that she had never read my thesis. Six months and $6000 in loans and one of the two people who were supposed to be working with me had never even read a page I had written. Now this person, who I learned had obtained their degree from that very college in the past year or two, wanted me to "start my thesis over," rewrite the whole thing and it would be at least 3-6-9 months more of loans before I could possibly be reviewed and complete the degree. I requested a concrete timeline and list of tasks necessary to complete my Masters and was now given vague answers and requests to sign for more loans. "Give us more money and we'll tell you more!" I refused and requested conflict resolution, no where on the Walden University website could I find the forms to submit, nor could I get anything except "you consented to change your primary and your primary can make any decision they feel is necessary." I went from a completed thesis to a total do over because my advisor resigned. 

How terrible and wrong you say? It happens to thousands of people every year. There is nothing to protect students from this. I have tried contacting the advisor who quit; and all he says is that he sucks, and he left due to conflict and disagreement with the school and their practices. He says I shouldn't have to redo the whole thing but that means nothing in the face of giant loans that do not go away. There is no statute of limitations. The loans buried me. I had barely been able to pay the undergraduate loans and now had loans for graduate school that hasn't enhanced my employability at all. 

People that struggle tooth and nail and succeed at paying off their loans feel that everyone with a loan should be made to suffer like they did. Stockholm syndrome with debt because misery loves company. 

I'm sitting here, mostly unemployed because my brilliant resume is terrible. My education has no value in a country of overeducated people all seeking employment and vying for low paying jobs. 

One of my friends is a lawyer, she struggles with loan debt and has searched for employment unsuccessfully for the last three years. No one told her that that was even possible when she signed the papers to go to school. 

Most employers want education and experience, the problem being: how do you get experience at a good job to get a good job when you have an education and no experience? Thousands of new graduates flood the fields every year, wages do not go up with cost of living and it gets harder each year to find options. 

But go ahead, push your child directly into an education rather than encouraging them to get some experience; work a few jobs from sales positions to nannying to farm work, make their mistakes without building a debt. Mature first. Play first. Figure out what you want to do first. Learn to read the small print and ask the uncomfortable questions. 

Just because you like an obscure time period in history does not mean it is a good investment to take out loans to get your Masters degree in Egyptian Sand Castle Building. One of the nicest grocery store bagging clerks I ever met was a woman with a Masters Degree; and instead of paying attention to that I was busy laughing at people getting philosophy degrees so they could flip hamburgers and now I compete for their jobs. 

If you do nothing else, learn from this. Look into what I am saying. It is real, it is true and the facts are out there. Educate yourself. Do not emotionally manipulate your child into a life of debt. Do not trick yourself into the chains of debt. Sadhu thanks you for enjoying the kitten pictures, he is glad you took the time to read just to see him.