I’m taking a detour from my usual posts about mental illness and related issues. Yet this is still a serious topic I’m writing about. It’s about college, the world of work, and the new career and economic realities of life in the early 21st century. Even though I’ve been out of college and in the dreaded ‘real world’ for the last ten years, I still have yet to find the proverbial ‘well paying, well respected’ job that we were told that a college degree would lead to. I know that we’re living in tough economic times and that we’re transitioning to a service based economy from a manufacturing one. But I can’t help but feel like I was sold a bill of goods. It’s as if the old rules of go to college, get a good job, save your money for retirement, and live the American Dream of a house, a spouse, 2.3 kids, etc. no longer apply.
I am convinced we, as Americans, been living the high life for too long. Our expectations are out of whack. There very likely is a limit to how much of ‘the good life’ that we can expect before our standing of living goes down. And I think that we in America have hit it. I suppose this simply couldn’t last forever.
I wonder if those who are now entering college are aware of what’s going on in the world. Lord knows that I, and most of my classmates, had no clue as to what was coming. I still would have gone to college. But I wouldn’t have deluded myself into thinking that I was going straight from college to the good life. I suppose it’s what they call ‘paying your dues.’
Anyway, the rules have changed. College by itself will no longer guarentee you much. So my advise anyone who wants to go to college straight out of high school is this: Don’t go in with your eyes closed. Know that college alone will not guarantee you the easy life and happiness. Buyer beware. If you are still determined to go to college, at least study something that can specifically transfer over in a career. I’m talking about majors in any field of engineering, computer informations systems, accounting, teacher education, computer science, anything in the medical fields, and law. I would especially highly recommend trades like plumbing, welding, electrician, auto mechanics, information technology, anything to do with transportation, mining/extraction, renewable energy, and construction. It seemed that many teachers I knew ran down the skilled trades until they needed their cars fixed or carpentry work done on their houses. Most people I know with liberal arts degrees like english, history, etc. are either working low paying jobs, are becoming college instructors, or went on to law school or business school. Now, I love english and history as much as anyone I’ve ever met. I also didn’t want to teach in a traditional classroom setting. So I read as many history, classic literature, and philosophy books as I could on my own time during my five years in college. The school library was my second home. I may not have had much of a social life but with mental health issues, I didn’t have much of a social life anyway.
I’ve been out in the world outside of school for ten years now. I made some mistakes in the course of my college years. Had I the ability to do over again, I’d have probably studied Computer Science or Information Technology in addition to my business training. I use computers all the time just in my blogging and researching. I have a basic business background, but I don’t have anything specific like accounting. I still would have read a great deal of history, classic literature, and philosophy on my own. I am, however, grateful I never majored in such subjects. My basic business background taught me how to manage my personal finances, which is not required learning in American high schools. When I was questioned ‘why business’ after my foray into Pre-Med failed, I answered something like ‘I don’t have any knowledge of how businesses, banks, money, investments, sales, and economics work. I can learn this and perhaps make myself employable once I get a bachelor’s.’ While I haven’t landed the high paying job, I definitely learned how to budget and get as much out of money as I can. These skills made adapting to life on disability insurance and part time work much easier.
The ideas of how an individual has to budget all their expenses, know where their limited money is going, how compounding interest on credit cards and bank loans work, etc. are not exactly mysteries of the universe. But I had to study business in college to learn these things that, in a truly good education system, would have been addressed to kids in high school and even middle school. The level of financial knowledge in my country is truly sad. This lack of knowledge is why we’re having record numbers of people and businesses going bankrupt. Many marriages are strained and fail because of poor money management. Strained families cause stress and anxiety on everyone involved, especially children. It is why most city, state, and federal governments have such atrocious amounts of debt. Most of this could have been avoided had we been taught how money really works. I would liken this lack of instruction of the primary driver of our modern civilization to an ancient farming society not teaching their kids how to plant, raise, and harvest crops or how to care for livestock.
Many devoutly religious people may counter with the ‘love of money is the root of all kinds of evil’ from the Bible and other religious teachings. This has nothing to do with lust for money and power. Teaching money management to kids would tell them how the basic tool of survival in our post industrial age society, money, really works and give them a healthy respect for it. Surely it isn’t so bad to teach kids something in middle and high school that would truly benefit them in their adult lives? Any school that doesn’t teach it’s kids basic survival skills in their given society nor gives those kids the ability to learn on their own after the formal education is done, in short, isn’t justifying it’s own existence. I was fortunate to have studied business in college for my own sake. And I had to learn it in college because it wasn’t taught in a safer environment like a local high school or middle school. I am so grateful I didn’t have to learn about it on the mean streets or the ‘school of hard knocks.’