The ol’ college try


Every once in a great while, I am tapped to be an ambassador for higher learning. My college needs me, if only to shill for its ivy-covered walls and stunning hilltop view of the lake. Somewhere out there, a college senior mulls his fate.

I don’t mind, really. College was nine of the best years of my life.

(Kidding, it was actually eight-and-a-half — I was rounding.)

I haven’t been back in years, having skipped out on the 10th reunion. Why go if the only classmates you’ll see are the kind of losers who go to 10th reunions?

But I still need to hone my pitch for my alma mater.

college.jpgWhat can I say? College did right by me. For an exorbitant amount of money, I had access to a really good education. It hasn’t opened many doors for me; a school’s reputation will carry only so far, and apparently this one goes no farther than 300 miles in any direction.

I met and lived with and went to class with and dined with and argued with some of the finest minds of our generation. I even keep in touch with a select few, given my busy schedule of writing and napping and party planning.

My ethnic heritage demands I earn at the very least a four-year degree. But with tuition climbing, with lecturers no more than indentured servants, with lackluster primary and secondary education, I wonder if college is worth it for many people.

A surprising number of American colleges are churning out worthless graduates. They may have the diploma, but they lack the savvy to work in today’s world. I’ve had to hire a few in my day and work from time to time as a company recruiter.

I have not been impressed.

We all have ideals about the college experience. It’s the American dream. It’s where you can “find yourself.” It’s an opportunity for new experiences. It’s a place to discover your true calling. It’s newfound freedom.

Just about everyone in my little circle has a college degree. That’s not the norm: Roughly only 1 in 6 Americans has that piece of paper.

The real question is did that experience affect where they are now. Only a couple of them work specifically in fields related to their majors. Perhaps that’s our own fault: If we had picked more carefully when choosing courses, we might be better equipped to do our jobs.

Maybe it’s the serendipitous course that comes after graduation that’s to blame. Some argue that college better prepares citizens for a lifetime of change: different job markets, different economies, different circumstances.

These institutions of higher learning still churn out too many lawyers and too many English majors. They will soon displace the wrinkled greeters at Wal-Mart in the next wave of wage slaves.

Earlier this year, I enrolled in a medical study for easy cash. The doctor in charge dispensed what he thought was helpful advice (which is why he’s a researcher and not a career counselor). He said his brother or cousin or gardener’s nephew worked as a computer tech.

That’s because he lives in Germany, where the government retrains unemployed workers to meet hiring demands in growing fields. I shuddered to think about going back to school, then shuddered again after envisioning myself trapped in a daily grind that suffocated me.

It’s a fate I dodged early on, a fate worse than death.

I thanked him politely and tried not to roll my eyes too far back. I left college for good, not because it was a lousy place, but because I was ready to move on.

For me, it was time to learn from the great big wide world out there, not the confines of a stuffy classroom.

I still believe that higher education should be cheaper and more easily available. It should work more closely with business to train the right people in the right way.

Not that every grad has to be an accountant. College turns out some impressive artists and philosophers and dreamers, too.

I couldn’t tell you what my college — for that matter any college — is like on a daily basis. I have my good memories and bad ones. It was vital for my career in journalism, because it’s expected in this field. (Just ask the guy they fired for lying about graduating.)

I’ll shill for higher learning, but only because I believe in lifelong learning. If some kid out there has worked his tail off to succeed in high school, he’ll probably do all right. He’s certainly welcome to go to my alma mater — if he can foot the bill.

After that, he’ll be four years older, hopefully four years wiser. And he’ll be on his own.

Make it count for something.


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