Opinion: School is Cool; Berating Higher Education Is Not


This post originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.

Growing up, I was always told that I was going to college. Point blank, non-negotiable. This was never a problem, because, growing up, I always wanted to go to college. There was no alternative for me.

I remember the last two years of high school, the blur of stress and anxiety and exhaustion.

I remember taking the PSATs, not understanding if they were really “practice” SATs or what exactly their purpose was. I still don’t. (I could Google it, but I’d rather continue to block that out.) I remember silently stealing glances at my friends’ results, desperately wanting to have done as well as, if not better, than them.

I remember taking the SATs three times, hoping to improve my math score only to have it slip a little bit lower on each subsequent exam.

I remember taking the SAT subject tests for NYU (do they still do those?) and staring blankly at algebra I had no clue how to figure out.

I remember taking AP classes and, later, AP exams. I remember DBQs (I remember the term but can no longer recall what exactly they were) and FRQs (same) for US History and practicing timed free responses to prompts I had nothing but apathy for in Language and Composition.

I remember filling out applications on three separate occasions: senior year of high school, the spring of freshman year at Temple University, when I knew I needed to transfer, and fall of sophomore year, when an administrative error made my transfer to NYU that year unclear.

I remember the way fear clawed at my stomach at night and prevented me from sleeping. At first it was fear that I would never get into college. Then it became fear that I would never make it to my dream school. When I was at NYU, it was fear that I was not good enough, fear that the work was too hard for me to handle, fear that I would never actually graduate. These were all fears that were unfounded in facts. I did get into college. I did go to my dream school. I was more than good enough.

I didn’t know these things at the time, but I pushed through. I did it. Because not doing it was never an option.

The point of all these memories is to explain how desperately myself, and a lot of others, wanted to go to school. College is hard. College is not for everyone. Of course, there are some career choices and passions to follow where college doesn’t make sense. There are some learners and thinkers who cannot adjust to the current common university environment. I get that. Going to college is a choice, and you have to make the choice that is best for you.

The reason I am writing all of this is because I need to make one thing very clear: you have no right to criticize anyone else’s decisions when it comes to education.

We typically think of education shaming as being one sided. We think of it as those who have pursued higher education speaking poorly about those who have not. This may be more common with older generations, however, what I am seeing more frequently among the millennial set is the opposite. This trend of belittling peers who are in college by those who are not seems to be increasing, distressingly so.

There are degree-less people who work hard day in and day out to make ends meet and to climb their own career ladders as high as they can. There are people who never went to college and are arguably better off. They are self-taught and incredibly knowledgeable. There are people who choose paths that are work, but don’t necessarily require spending such an exorbitant amount of money on a diploma – artists, actors, musicians, etc.

I am not talking about those people. I am talking about people who choose to bypass college because they would rather do nothing, because they’re not interested in the work that it takes.

Maybe social media just makes it easier to pick it out. People act like they are better or cooler than their peers because they don’t have to do homework or worry about finals or write theses. They argue (loudly, frequently) that their lives are fun fun fun all the time, because they don’t have to be at the library or sit through a boring three-hour long lecture. These are the same people who will scream and shout when those with degrees put them down for not being in school.

When did higher education become “uncool?” When did it become cool to be proud of doing nothing all day, living off your parents and smoking pot and surfing the internet all day? If that’s what you want to do, cool. Fine. By all means, go ahead. Will you still enjoy this a few years from now? Will you still think you’re cooler than your peers who sacrificed four years of their time in hopes of improving themselves? I don’t know. That’s your choice, not mine, and I have no room to judge what might make you happy.

As I said earlier: college is hard. For a lot of people, it’s work. Unfortunately, in this country, at least, college is considered a privilege. It’s a luxury for many.

Did you know? College enrollment is steadily declining. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, just 65.9 percent of the class of 2013 had enrolled in college, down from 66.2 percent the previous year – the lowest figure in a decade. But what about the rising costs of college? What about the effects of the recession, which forced many to opt out of pricy higher education?

In science, we often talk about correlation and causation. Correlation means that there is a relationship between two variables. Causation means exactly that: that one variable has a direct effect and is changing something. Correlation does not imply causation – there could be a third variable adding its own influence to the situation. Both the cost of college and the economy** are correlated to this trending decline, but they are not the cause.

**College enrollment hit an all-time high in 2009, when 70.1 percent of the class of 2009 were enrolled in college. The Great Recession officially lasted from 2007 to 2009, so I think blaming that is an ill-informed option at this point.

Did you know? According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials with a college degree make, on average, $17,500 more per year than their peers without a degree, and those without a degree are four times more likely to be unemployed than those with one.

Did you know? College enrollment among low income students is just over half of what it is for high income students (51% versus 81% in 2012). Those enrolled are only half as likely to complete college compared to their high income peers, often dropping out due to the burden of cost or the stress of working and attending classes full time, among many other challenges.

Your doctor went to college. So did your dentist and your high school teachers. Get into trouble or need legal help, the lawyer on your side went to college. Do you still think college is dumb, knowing just how necessary it is for some professions? Would you like to make fun of your doctor for spending hours studying to pass exams so he could save your life?

Let me be clear: a college education does not make someone a better person. But this notion that we should shame people who want to better themselves through it astounds me.

A lot of students don’t go to top tier schools – or school, period – not for lack of ability, but because they simply can’t afford it. A lot of students rack up tens of thousands of dollars in debt because they have no other choice. A lot of people work hard and may struggle every day because they want and need an education. So excuse me if I get a little irate when people turn down such an opportunity and belittle those who chase it.


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