Women In Academia

Women in Academia: Cost of College

An article published online in Bloomberg advocating for the end of U.S. government student loans sparked some conversation in my neck of the woods yesterday. Student loans are always a tricky conversation topic, in part because the gap between the ideal and the reality of higher education keeps shifting and widening, and in part because of the fluid concept of education. Regardless of these pitfalls, student loans are an important topic for discussion.

The current system of higher education is unsustainable for both the universities and the students. Universities are receiving less and less funding (public universities from support from the government, private universities from donations and endowments) and as a result, deep cuts are made across the campus, from hiring more poorly supported adjunct instructors instead of more expensive full-time tenured faculty to stopping facility upgrades. Students are facing a world where an undergraduate degree is replacing a high school diploma as the necessary level of educational attainment for even service industry jobs. The path of college to solid white-collar job is no longer visible, and students are paying more money than ever just to stay competitive in an ever-worsening job market.

I do not support any changes that make higher educational less attainable for people, and especially for groups that have traditionally been shut out of institutes of higher learning. By cutting the availability of financial support, students who are already struggling with the costs associated with college (tuition, fees, housing, board, etc.) are going to be prevented from attaining a level of education that is quickly becoming the minimum level necessary for employment.

But I am not so sure that I am comfortable with college becoming a necessary prerequisite for employment the way high school diplomas were. For starters, a free high school education is theoretically available for everyone. Theoretically, since kids who have to work in high school, who cannot afford the textbook fees of some public high schools, who have to attend dangerous campuses with inadequate facilities certainly face a different reality of how “free” high school education is compared to their more affluent peers. There is no similar model for college. College, even community college, can be prohibitively expensive. By requiring a college education for employment, certain socioeconomic groups will be forever at a disadvantage. By denying access to higher education to those socioeconomic groups, the current messed up status quo will be maintained.

This is a huge problem, and to be honest, I’m not sure how to best address this. Right now, I tend to lean more towards a mixed model, where college is made more affordable, preferably through grants not loans, for low and middle income students, while at the same time providing more employment opportunities for students with vocational training. College should be available for everyone, but it should not be required for everyone: different people are interested and skilled in different things, so there must be alternative routes to employment, and these alternative routes must be respected.

What do you think?

4 replies on “Women in Academia: Cost of College”

I’m currently a college student and when I was in high school, my teachers hammered in that if you wanted to make something of yourself, you absolutely needed to go to college. The only positive alternative that was ever presented was the military, with the understanding that you would attend college after your time in the service. The people who did not choose/could not go to college were shamed, to a certain degree. Vocational schools, which seem like a brilliant idea, reviving training for a future career rather than taking generic classes, were aimed at students who weren’t considered good enough for college. It was terrible.

This is wrong and I keep wondering if twenty years from now, the highest paying jobs are going to be things that require skilled labor, such as plumbers and mechanics because an entire generation is being taught that you aren’t successful unless you attend college.

It’s probably bleak in comparison, but in TNL this is becoming a bigger and bigger problem as well. Society seems to forget we also need people for jobs that don’t need a college or university degree. If you don’t have a diploma, you will never be able to enter certain companies. ‘Working your way up’, gets rarer and rarer.

Our government is already trying to change the bad image ‘community college’ (I think it’s the closest to our MBO) has. We need cooks, hair dressers, office workers as well as surgeons and professors. But every child needs to be Intelligent, Special and So Smart right now. People seem to forget that this envelopes more than book-(and college)smart.

No one should have to go to college to make a living and/or live a fulfilled life. This is true morally, but also economically: you don’t need four years of liberal arts to be a plumber, and SOMEONE has to know how to fix all those hot water heaters. (I say this as someone with both a LA degree and a plumber’s apprentice licence.)

Full disclosure: I was lucky enough to have college paid for in full, and will be forever grateful for that. That said, I wasn’t a mature enough eighteen year old to be making what-to-do-with-my-life decisions, and the first two years of college were a bust. Sure, I grew up, but those two years of growing up and ‘finding myself’ cost my parents $80k+, and I felt I had no other option as a high school junior but to go to college right after graduation. [I also went to a prep school and hung out with the geniuses, and foolishly thought a state school/anything other than a top-tier or school with a ‘name’ would be a letdown to myself and my parents.]

I wonder if an apprenticeship-type system post-high school would be beneficial; sending kids out on short, fixed-term experiences within a certain amount of time, before they choose a trade-specific school. Which would also make sure they can read and write properly. Free/low-/grant-paid labor for minors frees up funds to pay entry-level employees or those in school, and the younguns get experience so they don’t blindly pick a major they know little about or will hate. I know there’s a few younger Persephones out there at this pre-college age level, and I’m curious about what they’d have to say.

Further Point – The fact that I didn’t have to work to pay tuition loans didn’t cover or suchlike allowed me to do both paid and unpaid internships. Since my parents could afford to feed and house me after graduation, I had the opportunity to do more unpaid internships in my field, without which I wouldn’t have gotten into my graduate program, without which I would be unqualified for most jobs in said field (Architectural Conservation/Historic Preservation). What happens to the students who can’t afford to work for free, and how is this system fair to them in any way?

I hope that was coherent/not too obnoxiously long…

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