We’ve been duped. Hoodwinked. Bamboozled. However you prefer to say it, our generation has had the wool pulled over our eyes.
I was always told as a kid that if you want a good job, you go to college. It made sense: more education would equal more opportunities and more money. In 1940, less than 5 percent of Americans over the age of 25 had Bachelor’s degrees. That number didn’t even reach 10 percent until 1970.
When these students graduated, or at least saw what other graduates were doing, they were the crème de la crème, truly the brightest young minds in a booming supernation. Many of them actually had (now bear with me because I have never seen these words put together in this way) MULTIPLE JOB OFFERS. Now this obviously wasn’t true for all graduates, but the point is that even in 1970 a B.A. would make you more qualified for an entry level position than 90 percent of all adults over 25. Why wouldn’t I want to go to college?
So I get to college, a good one in fact, to begin my opportunity-filled life. The only problem was that college wasn’t exactly what Mom and Pop made it out to be. Currently, nearly 28 percent of adults over 25 have college degrees. If you are white and/or male, your odds of having a college degree dramatically increase. So what I thought was a straight bridge to opportunity was actually a bridge to another bridge?
It’s not that college wasn’t all it was cut out to be. It was a life-changing experience that has made me a better person in just about every way. The only problem is that what once was extraordinary is now the ordinary. What was once the prerequisite for employment is now one of many.
Let me add that I don’t think that it is a bad thing that more people are going to college. In fact, I argue the opposite. However, with a job market that is still in recovery mode after a devastating collapse, some of the best employment opportunities are being given to brain-drain opportunists, even more are being shipped overseas, and college is only the first of many hoops left to jump through.
If I want to teach at the college level, I have to pursue a PhD track which guarantees absolutely no job security. If I want to be a lawyer, I may end up working countless hours at a firm outside the field of law that I want to practice to pay off loans from law school. If I decide to wait for the dream job that I might finally be accepted into, I could be waiting an awfully long time. This all beside the fact that I would actually need to know what I want to do with my life anyway.
My four years at Gustavus have been the best of my life, and I believe that most of our students feel that Gustavus has prepared them mentally and academically for the future. This is the worst of it, though: that even a BA from Gustavus could still mean working wherever possible for a period of time to stabilize finances. So, degree in hand, I fearfully crawl out of Plato’s Gustavian cave and am blinded by the light that is the real world, stumbling over high unemployment rates and an economic recession.
Yet, at the very least, if Gustavus has taught me anything, it has been that the examined life can be sought in every area of life. So even though I will have less spending money next year than when I was in high school, I know that life after graduation is what I make of it. A degree from Gustavus still carries with it a sense of pride and honor that even a terrible job market cannot take away from you.
*All statistics from The Chronicle (Online), “Adults with College Degrees in the U.S., by Country,” Jan 23, 2011.