Seriously though, fuck college.
I regret going to college. It’s the biggest regret of my life. When I look at my student debt, I get angry. When I think about the waste of time and life, I get angry. When I think about my kids going through the same thing, I get especially angry.
I’m sure you’ve guessed that I’m a millennial. College is the cruelest joke played on our generation. While I recognize the need to experiment with social institutions, it sucks to be part of a failed experiment that leaves you shackled to debt.
Let’s look at some facts about college and the workforce:
- 27% of college grads do work related to their major.
- At Penn state, many students feel uncertain (80%) about their major and change it (>50%). A precise number is hard to pin down but this looks fairly representative.
- 51% of college grads regret at least one of their institution, degree type, or major decisions.
- 68% of college grads have student debt, with an average of $30,100 per borrower.
- Student debt in the US aggregates to over $1.4 trillion dollars.
- Only about 1/3 of workers are engaged at work.
I represent one of the worst cases. I changed my major several times and graduated with nearly $50k in student debt. I regret my institution, major, and degree choice. I shouldn’t have gone to college at all.
I grew up poor and was told my best chance of escape was to study hard, go to college, and then get a good job. I had to work through college and never really got to enjoy my college experience. I just slogged my way through it trusting that in the end it would pay off.
I started college wanting to get a double major in Computer Science and Art and, due to a complex series of stupid events (e.g. Hurricane Katrina, crappy class scheduling), ended up with a major in Economics and minor in Math. There was a point where that was just the quickest path to escape with a degree. I didn’t know what I really wanted to do anyway and college wasn’t helping me with that.
When I graduated I ended up working in software validation. It paid okay but I hated it. There was no creativity or joy. My college debt was so high that I was effectively still poor and struggled to see a way out of my new trap. A deep seething anger started brewing inside me.
I didn’t fail college, but college failed me.
College is an institution designed to create academics and scholarly tradesmen and yet here we are trying to use it as a solution to create flexible and creative citizens.
If we’re sending kids to college so they’re more successful and well rounded adults, college is the wrong solution to the right problem. If we’re sending kids to college so they can figure out what they want to do with their lives, college is the wrong solution to the right problem.
Right now there is a push for debt-free college and free tuition. All this does is move the ridiculous waste of college spending from the students to the society at large.
The problem is the institution, not just the price.
So, what could fix the institution?
Look, if you want to be a doctor of some kind (i.e. MD or PhD), go to college. It was designed for you.
Let’s consider some things that college can get right for everyone else. It can help you build a social network. It can help you learn a profession and try that profession out. It can help you explore your interests and become well rounded.
But, you don’t need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars per class to get those things. All you need is some friends, some time, maybe a mentor, and a handful of $20 books.
We need new institutions that help people direct their own learning without having to sit in expensive lecture halls. We need more mentoring teachers and fewer assembly line teachers.
We need to help people try out the things they think they want to do so they can see if it suits them. In software we call that fail fast and early.
We need to give people the time and space to explore and experiment without enslaving them to mounds of debt. We need to help people get joy from education instead of despair.
If you agree, share this. We need to work together to end the joke so we can move on to something better.