Yeah yeah, it was probably always like this. But WE weren’t like this.
A few months back, budgeting in the fun stuff had a guest post on Get rich slowly talking about how she worked her way through college and ended up with no loans (after her parents paid off the balance). In order to do this, she spent some time during the school year working 60 hrs/week at low wage jobs while going to school full-time.
Very few people can work full time and go to school full time and still learn. Many folks who try end up not getting educated. Folks who do manage it… one has to wonder what they could have achieved if they’d gone to a more challenging program and worked less. Maybe they could have rocked MIT or Caltech and come out with a 6 figure starting salary and paid off those loans in a year or two. Or a high quality state school in 2-3 years and started a high paying job that much earlier.
Many undergrads today are not learning how to think. I don’t know if undergrads ever did learn how to think, but at the undergrad institutions I attended (both in high school and as a college student myself), a big emphasis was on how different high school and college were from each other. Calculus was taught to “expand your brain,” that’s why it fulfilled degree requirements. Students had personal responsibility to learn– to do the homework even if it wasn’t graded. To attend recitation sections and get help from the TA (at the regional state school) or office hours and get help from the professor (at the SLAC). Today college seems to be just an extension of high school– with huge lecture classes it’s much easier for professors to lecture and then assign work that can easily be tested in a scantron framework. There isn’t enough support for small discussion sections; budget cuts have resulted in ballooning class sizes with no corresponding increase in resources (TAs, faculty lines, faculty pay, reassigned time, etc.).
Not only that but many undergrads do not want to learn how to think. They want the certificate as a ticket for a job and don’t care about the learning. If there’s no value to the education itself, then that makes perfect sense. You want to get the degree at least cost with minimal effort, so sure, working long hours at a menial job and not wanting to learn makes sense.
Even the undergrads who WANT to learn how to think are often not being taught how. We get graduate students with high grades from supposedly high-quality schools who are shocked that not everything has an answer that they can memorize and regurgitate on a scantron exam. They’re smart, and after the initial cognitive dissonance, they succeed, but it is often difficult going before they get there.
What’s the point of school anyway?
We’ve already talked about how people from different educational class backgrounds have different beliefs about the reason for schooling. We’ve always thought of it as a coming of age experience, something to make you a cultured adult, to teach you different ways to think. Or as South Park says, There’s a time and a place for everything, and that time and place is college. But we’ve come to realize that many other folks were brought up believing that college serves as primarily a job credential. If it isn’t going to help you get a job, or a higher paying job, you shouldn’t go.
Not all education or degrees are equal. Some are difficult and, as one of our partners knows full well, students who try to work full-time and go to school full-time end up failing and wasting their time and money on the schooling. Other majors apparently allow shiny grades and full-time work outside of class. Does your degree matter in the labor market? The evidence is mixed. It is true that an engineer will tend to make more than a communications major, and that an ivy league grad will tend to make more than someone from a not-so-good private school or directional regional school. But is that because of the selection of the students who go into the programs or because of the degrees themselves? Research hasn’t pinned the answers to these questions down yet.
Crystal from Budgeting the Fun Stuff worked long hours at low wages and got pretty grades in a non-challenging major in school. She is not making much money from her day job that she dislikes. Maybe if she’d spent more effort and time in school and worked a bit less in the labor force and found a major that was more challenging, she would have found a better fit in the labor market as well, and perhaps been able to pay the loans off with a higher salary.
Then again, maybe not.
Crystal from BFS is going to be a full-time blogger, and she is very happy with that. Even if we made choices about work and education it’s never too late to make new choices.
As your professors we request:
Please do not try to work full-time and also go to school full-time. That’s why we have low-interest loans for education. Don’t take out more than the average salary for someone in your major from your school, but don’t kill yourself either. School isn’t just a degree– the reason it gets you a job is because of the skills you learn, and a lot of these skills are fuzzy… they’re training your ways of thinking. How to think like a [insert your major here]. If you’re just repeating things you’ve memorized back, or cranking numbers through an algorithm like a computer could, then you’re not really much more useful to an employer than a high school graduate would have been.
If you do work full-time and go to school full-time, don’t blame us for trying to make you get a solid education even though you don’t have time for it. Choices = consequences. As your professors, we realize that you have other things in your life besides our courses. But if you don’t place a high priority on our courses, your grades will suffer, and if they don’t, you have to wonder about the worth of the degree you’re getting. More importantly, you won’t be learning anything. Save yourself the time and money and don’t go to school full-time now if it’s not going to be a priority.
And… regardless of the schooling choices you make, it is never too late to learn and grow and change.
Do you think people should be encouraged to work full time while going to school full time? What would your advice be?