The problem seems to be rooted in two main factors: More federal money appears to have just resulted in schools scrambling to find ways to take and spend it, but not in ways that make the education more affordable. We’ve also made having a degree a prerequisite for any kind of decent-paying job.
Don’t get me wrong, there are highly specialized positions that should absolutely require certain standards of education — but we as a society place far too much stock in whether someone simply has a piece of paper as opposed to whether that person has the skills, experience or ability to learn necessary for a particular job. College isn’t for everyone. We need to do a better job of presenting all options to students, and then creating a world in which those decisions are valued and rewarded.
I sent not one but three interns back to school this week, including one at the very beginning of her college career. Since I am now officially in the eyes of the Kids Today an old person, I have a bunch of hoary advice I make them listen to on their way out the door and most of it has to do with being a young woman at the beginning of your white-collar work life. Stuff like, “If you can’t run a mile in the shoes don’t wear them to work” and “You are young and talented and pretty all at once, so at some point an old dude will insinuate you are sleeping with your boss. The thing to remember is that guy is full of shit and is threatened by you, and saying that stuff is his way of signaling that you don’t need to listen to him at all.”
Today, though, I said, “Screw your grades. Nobody cares. I mean, pass your classes. Get your degree because it’s like a box they check. But don’t flip out about every test. You know what people care about? What you’ve DONE. People want to know what you’ve accomplished, not how many As you got.”
In my life I’ve applied for dozens of jobs and interviewed for many of them and honest to God, in my 20 years in what we euphemistically term “the workforce” ONE PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYER, one, has asked me for my GPA. And that was like three years ago. I had to look it up.
It’s not even that college isn’t for everyone, it’s that college isn’t for everyTHING. We’ve made a college degree some kind of universal signifier of acceptability, and then put that signifier out of reach of a lot of people. Whereas if we’re honest about what employers need versus what students should pay for, we can reduce a lot of unnecessary debt burden, and make life easier on people who are just starting out and have enough to deal with already.