As I near my college graduation I am filled with more questions than answers, more concern than reassurance. I find myself looking back on my four years at the University and asking, “Was it worth it?”
Before I start, I want to make clear that I had a great time during my college career. I had so many opportunities to try new and different things. I learned about something I have a passion for. It was an experience.
Despite all that I am left, like many students, with a sizable debt. I could just accept that, pay my more than $40,000 back over the next 10 years. I could think positively about my debt, as the University loan exit interviewers suggested. But then I think, is my degree really worth almost half a million dollars? What did I pay for?
Even as children, teachers, schools, higher education institutions and the government drill into us that we must get an education. We must get that education to get a good job, to be successful and to be respected. Our resumes should include at least a bachelor’s degree. We are constantly reminded that if we do not go to college and get an education, we will fail at life, we will not even be considered by employers, much less get a job.
But who makes these requirements? Who sets these standards? The higher education institutions and government have convinced the general public that we have to get this education. They have created a social standard for “necessary education.” This standard is so engrained, it doesn’t even occur to most of us to ask these questions. Who loans us the money to pay the bill? The higher education institutions and the government. To whom do we owe money to after “the best four years of our lives?” The usual suspects.
I find myself way past frustrated with this system. We are the United States, a democratic and opportunist state – right? But is education really available to all people? Can we really all study something we are passionate about and then spend the rest of our lives doing that? Tell that to the people who get the college rejection letters. The “American education system” seems to be more like a capitalistic ploy. It’s like a make believe opportunity for all, but really only the rich survive, the rest of us are just paying for “necessary education.”
In Italy, my husband paid about 2,000 euros for an entire year at the University of Florence. That’s about $4,000. That rounds to about $6,000 less that the University charges for one semester. Does that make his education worth less? Is his degree not as good as mine?
After I graduate and have my degree, I will start a job that will probably require on-the-job training for six months and up to a year. Wait, why did I go to college again? I will most likely start in a job with low pay and little benefits. But besides paying all of life’s necessary bills, I will be straddling college loan debt. This is what my education gave me? I want my money back.
Maybe the University could commission a research study and answer these questions: Why is college so expensive? Why can’t it be made more affordable? What are we paying for – actual knowledge advancement or society’s required degree?
My advice to all you high school grads nervous about which college you’re getting into, worry less. Maybe college isn’t such a good idea.
Randi Niklekaj is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]