The American Dream Deferred
There was a time many years ago when college was the definitive answer to the unemployment problem. In this era, those who received a degree were pretty much guaranteed the opportunities of a new life. Enduring the four years of gruelling exams, hours of studying, and typing page upon page of papers meant that you were equipped with the know-how and the drive to succeed at life. And for the prospective employer the receipts (degrees) that showed these qualifications and efforts did enough convincing to get the jobless a job and be on their way to living “The American Dream”. But now, many years later, college costs are at an all time high and the corresponding debt accrued by ignorant ambition daily bleeds the lifeblood out of the economy. In the year 2013, “The American Dream” seems to rapidly escape the minds of new graduates and the unemployment troubles of the past have returned. This is my perception of what I refer to as the college nightmare or The American Dream deferred and here is how it begins and my advice for prospective and current college students.
As students in high school many of us are trained by our parents, friends, and society that upon completion of senior high, college is the next step toward success and inevitably a bright career. As a high school student, I too was taught this fantasy that college makes things better, highly increases your chances at getting the job you want and prepares you for the real world. In my mind college really was the only possibility presented to me as a post high school grad option. Although, I was given the military/college ultimatum, I knew I was NOT going to the military. That was absolutely out of the question. So I decided to apply for college during my senior year. I only applied to a few, because in my mind the University of Maryland was where I really wanted to go. When I received my acceptance letter to UMD, I began thinking I was on the right path to fulfilling my destiny. Expectations boiled over and emotions burst onto the scene faster than the time it took me to open the letter. Within that moment I felt that dreams really could come true. Of course, at seventeen we do not realize our own naiveté. Nor do we foresee the hardships, the struggles, or the possible derailment that is likely to follow.
During my collegiate career I spent six years studying in two schools and after finally conquering all of the B.S. of life within that time frame I graduated with an A.A. and a B.A. Yet, I still didn’t know my place in the world. A lot happened in my six-year quest to receive the beloved receipt that would whisk me away to some faux land of clarity and opportunity. During my freshman year as a seventeen/eighteen year old male in college, the maturity it took to overcome distractions and remain focused just wasn’t yet developed. This contributed to a lot of misdirection, unused diligence, and time wasted during the first third of my college experience. And I definitely was not the only one affected by life’s surprises. Many other students I knew had undergone transfers, dismissals, departures, and delays. I’ve been told the new national average undergrad career is five years rather than four. And if that is true, it’s for good reason. The college/university system is built on deception, misperception and disconnection. Don’t worry I’ll explain.
As previously stated, the greater majority thinks that college is the only way out of economic struggle and the path to financial freedom. This ideal is a fallacy and also a tactic used by recruiters to get more people into their schools so that they may fulfill their bottom line. I know what you’re probably thinking, “But what about the public schools? They don’t make any profit.” My answer to that is, all colleges need money. They need money to pay their staff, fund their sports programs, build their state-of-the-art academic facilities, and so on and so forth. Most public colleges and universities have high overhead costs so it’s in their best interest to accept as many students as possible to cover these costs. How better to attract more students than by making college seem as if it’s the only option for a person to further their career and enhance their life? So they post copious amounts of statistics about how college graduates inevitably make more money than non-college graduates and they glamorize the college experience. The schools job is to repackage The American Dream and sell it to you in the form of a four-year commitment at a price in upwards of $100,000 dollars and this is just the public school system. Don’t get me started on the for-profit schools (Strayer, University of Phoenix, etc). Those are the most nefarious faux educational systems known to creation and most of them aren’t even accredited. Path to financial freedom? I think not. The interest on the loans us college students take out end up costing us thousands more dollars over our lifetime and all college loans MUST be paid in full. Not even filing for bankruptcy can curtail loan debt. Clearly Sallie Mae and the major banks don’t care about your education.
Because of the belief that higher education will result in higher paying jobs, many young Americans and more recently older Americans are attending colleges and taking out high loans to pay for it. This wouldn’t be an issue if the types of jobs available for college grads paid enough to balance out the costs of these loans. This is where one of the biggest, if not THEE largest problem extends from. As a recent graduate (class of 2011), I have experienced the job dilemma. Companies are less willing to hire college students because many of us don’t have the 4+ years of real world experience they want in an employee. Here’s where it gets tricky. If I spend four to six years in school how can I get the 4+ years of real world experience the prospective employers seek? And I know many of you are saying, “What about internships?” Here’s the issue with those. As a first timer in college with parents who didn’t go to college and don’t possess prior knowledge about the inner workings of the institution, many of us are not guided or counseled on the importance of internships until our third and in many cases fourth year of Undergrad. So, those “3-8 years” of experience many prospective employers are looking for are not on a recent grads resume.
The largest problem shared by the collegiate system (colleges, book distributors and writers, prospective employers, and loan lenders) is that those in control of the system are disconnected and detached from the common man or woman. For the common man or woman college is a privilege. A privilege that many are not privy to due to a lack of necessary economic resources. What this means is that many people (the common man and woman) really can’t afford college so they depend on loans to help supplement their financial inability. The colleges are disconnected from the people because they continue to raise costs EVERY single year despite the fact that people with degrees in a lot of cases are not getting their money’s worth when it comes to employment. The book distributors and writers are disconnected from the common people because they continue to charge outlandish prices for textbooks that they know the students need, but really can’t afford. Prospective employers are disconnected because they don’t understand the logistics of college in today’s world. Loan lenders are disconnected because to be able to constantly harass people about their late or incomplete payments, or their inability to pay, they have to be heartless and inconsiderate. They are also disconnected because they are in bed with the schools. As long as the schools continue to increase their cost of attendance every year, more graduates will be indebted to the banks and the banks will forever have the financial slavery they want that keeps them in positions of power. So how do we remedy the situation? How can we solve these issues to not just improve the students situations, but the job industry and the entire economic system in America?
What most people fail to notice is that college is not pertinent for success. I am a strong believer that there is power in education. But, most who attend college do not go simply to gain more knowledge. The expectation and the driving force behind many students’ presence in an academic institution is that college will lead to higher paying jobs and a better life than the person who doesn’t attend. I am here to say that assumption is incorrect. Many of America’s billionaires, millionaires, and simply well to do citizens either never attended college or didn’t finish. This is because while college has the ability to create growth, it also has the uncanny ability to stunt it. While college has many positive features and capabilities, it isn’t for everyone. In many ways, college teaches us how to be good employees, not good bosses. It lacks the necessary tools to educate students on how to be great leaders and be independent of the larger systems. For the student who doesn’t know what they want out of life, in some cases college has the power to show you. But, in most cases it leads you in a particular direction that might not always follow your optimal path.
If Mega Millionnaire Jay-Z, Multi billionaire Richard Branson and others like them went to college who knows if they would have possessed the same drive, picked the adequate time, or even pursued the right interests that have led them to their level of wealth and success. And after most students graduate, they’re so busy trying to figure out how to pay off their loan debt they end up getting a job for that sole purpose, rather than pursuing what they really want to do. Necessity has the ability to seamlessly subdue even the most creative and strong-willed. So, what should someone do before considering attending college.
Prospective students should know that college is for the person who knows the career path they want to pursue in life and feels that college will help get them there. They should be sure college is right for them, be certain of their career focus, and never lose sight of their goal. If they feel unprepared they shouldn’t go until they feel prepared. If they ever choose to go, they should take advantage of any networking and internship opportunities from the minute they arrive to the minute they depart. If while they are there they discover what they want to do is no longer within the confines of the college, they should leave and pursue their passion. Those who are uncertain about college should experience the world and all it has to offer first. This will help them deduce or create options for themselves. It’s never good to rush into decisions or situations. Should they choose not to attend college, they should use their time wisely. Unlock the person they really are. They shouldn’t allow others to steer them in the wrong direction and always work to discover their true purpose. The moral of this essay is to not waste time, money or ambition. Anyone can be a worker, not everyone can be a boss. And whether a person wishes to start their own business, has dreams of being in the entertainment industry or wants to establish themselves as a writer, all of these things can be achieved without college. It just takes a prepared mind with the ambition and persistence to pursue those goals. We live in a new era. College does not guarantee you “The American Dream” will come true. Live for what you truly want to do. Do you have what it takes to break the mold? Do you have the gusto to pursue your dream? Only one way to find out.