Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I went to college for this?

It is graduation season here...not the big graduation, but still a couple thousand will get pushed out into the dark, cold world this month.  The local news programs are rolling out stories about how much debt these graduate have & how many jobs there aren't for them & wouldn't they have been better off getting these same no-jobs right after high school?  I am just a little bit burned out.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say my husband is a professor.  Most of my friends are education-adjacent.  The town we don't live in (because we live in the small farm community next door), but rely on for just about everything is university-centric.  In sort, the education business is the business that pays our bills.  So, there that is.

Now will someone PLEASE explain to me why it is UNACCEPTABLE to go 17K in debt for a degree but the same amount & very likely more is just fine for a car?  Why isn't the car note a lead story?  I don't really have anything else to say on this one, so I am just going to move on.  Also, in a second full disclosure I should mention I have never had a car loan.  Never.  Never ever.  As a result I drove clunkers for a long time & was in my 30s when I got my first new & not just new-to-me car.  It cost $18,500 & we paid cash.  So you can see how that 17K number the students were tossing around on the radio earlier this week hit close to home for me.

If one person says "well you need a car to get to work, but you don't need a degree to do X job" I will....I don't know.  Spit, maybe. 

A funny thing happens on the way to that degree.  & I am not disputing that in many cases a person could get just as much out of life experience, but some how they never do.  Or at least not often.  Here are a few examples of things you learn in college without realizing you are learning them:
  • Finish your work in on time.  This is another personal one for me because I once had an actual employee show up on presentation to the client day EMPTY HANDED.  Because he needed an extension.  & to be fair, he had a degree but it was in computer science & that particular field of study seems plagued with negotiable deadlines so he learned the hard way that in the job-world you get canned for that kind of thing.  Most people learn this in school, but fewer & fewer in K-12. 
  • Just plain show up on time.  In job-world there are no bells.  Well, very few anyhow.  & plenty of professors don't care if you stroll in late.  Still, a surprising number of them cover crucial business in the first 5 minutes.  For example, the announcement that the final was moved from the room printed in the syllabus to a building across campus was made at the beginning of class.  Yes, it was updated on-line so someone COULD have looked it up but a surprising number did not think to do that. I have specifically asked professors of large lecture classes (where this cavalier attendance is more normal) if there is a correlation between people who wander in late to class & people who lose 45 minutes of a 2 hour exam period running to the new location & pretty much all of them laughed out loud.  I should say that the large lectures involved come with an electronic response thing for in-class participation; the questions are usually simple, & often not graded but they are a good indicator of who is sitting there when class begins & who is not.
  • Sometimes you have to do things that don't interest you.  Every semester someone says about something "when am I ever going to use this?" & the answer might be never.  But you are going to sit through a lifetime of staff meetings & presentations & be expected to parrot at least some of that crap back before they let you leave the room so you may as well learn how now.  In job-world, if you walk into a seminar on racial diversity, say "this is bullshit" & walk out you will probably get fired.
  • Sometimes you have to interact with people you don't like...& who may not much like you.  Every student every where has had an unpleasant, unfair, lopsided encounter with a professor.  Sometimes the professor has no idea they are treating you like crap, you are just the 100th person to walk through the door with whatever life shattering problem you have (I'm sorry but after the first few dead grandmothers, they blend).  The reality is that for your professor you are less an individual than one of a herd.  Understanding this will be helpful when you interact with your future boss who is unlikely to be your buddy & may not get your name right for the first few months. 
  • Shut up, you might learn something.  By shut up, I also mean stop texting & pull out those earbuds.  Maybe it would be better to say pay attention, you might learn something.  In job-world a surprising amount of information is given on the fly.  E-mails have actually helped a lot with this, but plenty of people never get around to putting their instructions in writing.  The only time a you-never-said-that defense ever works is when you already have an unimpeachable reputation for being on the ball.  & there is really only one way to get one of those.
Is 17K a bit steep for these lessons?  Maybe.  But that 17K doesn't nearly come close to covering the cost of the people & the buildings & so on that are needed to teach these lessons...not to mention that actual lesson-lessons.  Sure you could learn them the way Abe Lincoln did, but will you?

As I was writing this I thought of a few collegiate lessons from my own life.  No one else's stories are all that interesting (this includes yours by the way, so keep that office hours chit-chat brief), so I will just give you the highlights:
  • My last boss drank his coffee black (he called it neat) & for lunch he preferred tuna on wheat- rye if there was no wheat- with spicy mustard (WTF right?) & sliced tomato.  Under no circumstances should the pickle on the side ever touch the bread.  OKay, that pickle thing is mine, it grosses me out when the bread gets pickle-soggy.  It has been way-more than a decade since I placed that lunch order; it just might be the last thing I ever forget.
  • When you are standing in the utility room waiting for a fax to go out or come in or binding reports or whatever, take this opportunity to restock the copier's paper trays.  Just do it.  & if you take the last thing of paper from the box, tell someone so they can order more.  If you don't know who that person is, it is probably you. 
  • People who have pink eye MUST be sent home.  Even if he is the boss.  Even if he promises not to touch anything on anyone else's desk.  No exceptions.
None of these would have been covered in any college curriculum (& frankly that semester on feminist literature might have given you the idea you weren't responsible for the coffee or the lunch order, but you would be wrong.  You aren't responsible for the coffee because of your lady parts you are responsible because you are an underling.  This goes for the guys too, but in reverse.  As in you are not not responsible because you are a boy & so on), but all of them were skills that are taught on college campuses every day.  Yes, even the pink eye thing.  We can call that one Lessons in Communal Living.


  1. While I do agree for the most part with what you wrote, I think too many people select majors that do little to prepare them for the world beyond. Maybe they became more well-rounded or something, but that doesn't help them in the job market place.

  2. I love your list and your insights - I was an English Litrerature English major with a minor in Sociology - two majors some might say would not do much for immediate professional life, yet they taught met three things - how to read critically and read often, how to write, and all about people. If you know those three things (and sure a little math perhaps) the rest is skills that can be learned I do believe.

    1. I was an english major with a focus on 19th century children's poetry. & a big minor (I had the credits but didn't do the project because I never intended to double major) in linguistics/anthropology (they were combined departments at my school in those days). My early mantra was Who is the narrator? What does he want? which served me better in business than any business class ever did. I know this because I have NEVER taken a single business course. Ever. My husband hates it when I say this but I think a lot of university departments are actually trades & there is nothing wrong with that until they start targeting everything to their fields & stop teaching critical thinking.