As a child, my father taught me a lot of great things. He taught me the value of hard work. He taught me the love of Baseball. He taught me that I must be responsible for my actions. He taught me that being honest is a virtue that will get you places.
My dad lied to me about one thing. Now, I must say that he did not mean to lie to me. His intentions were good. In his defense, my father is not the only person that told their son or daughter this statement. An entire generation was told that a college education is a very important thing for a person to have, and it is essential to financial success.
That is the lie. It is a complex lie with multiple layers of assumptions and beliefs that on the surface are true, but under closer examination are false.
I am a recent graduate from an accredited four-year state university. I, like thousands of other adults were told that a degree is the difference. It separates you from the rest of the people who chose not to attend college. College put you a cut above the rest. My generation, generation y (people born 1980-1999, or more specifically a sub-generation called echo boomers, those born in the 1980’s. We are named echo boomers because of a population boom in the 1980’s, as well as a majority of parents being born in the baby boomer generation right after World War II) have been told all of our life that if you get a degree, you WILL get a good job. A job with a wage good enough to provide for your family, should you choose to have one.
What my dad and many others like him forgot to mention was that attending college is a risk. College costs money. If a person does not have the money to pay for college with savings, the popular alternative is to take out a student loan, mostly funded by the government through Stafford student loans. Once a student obtained a college degree, the job they got as a result of their degree would provide such an income that paying off the student loans would take a small amount of time. The benefits of the loan would far outweigh the risks of going into debt. So we, as a culture decided to take this one step further.
It wasn’t just that you got a degree, it was where your degree came from. Ivy schools had the best education money could buy, yet they were also the most expensive. The belief that the benefits would exceed the risks led a multitude of young adults to make irrational, and downright stupid decisions. Getting a “quality education” while going thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt is not a good idea. The adults being on the hook for these debts could not see past all of the beliefs our parents and society instilled upon us. The value of the education still superseded any amount of debt accrued. Universities and Colleges throughout the United States started trotting out programs such as environmental studies, creative writing, and other studies that have little to no financial value, but tugged at the heart-strings of students who shunned the idea of getting a degree in a conventional field. Universities made a lot of money, and lots of people could say they were college graduates when a generation before them would have chosen a more financially appealing field of study. Then something strange happened.
It seems redundant to mention the economic collapse of 2008 and subsequent recession. However, this is where the story takes a turn. It was at this point that people graduated from school and could not get jobs. A recent Associated Press article on the subject found that up to fifty-three percent of college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. While some may argue that most of the unemployed are carriers of philosophy degrees or have their Bachelor’s degree in art history, a majority of these students are in the fields that pay. Business, Engineering, Nursing, Economics to name a few.
It has been in the news this week that President Barack Obama wants to keep interest rates low on student loans. Congress needs to enact legislature to keep student loans at their current rate by July 1, 2012, or rates will almost double. This has led to protests from many recent graduates who fall within the fifty-three percent.
My generation is angry. Most of the anger is shown through protests or so-called movements. Be they the “occupy” movement or these protests going on at college campuses one thing is clear, my fellow twenty-somethings are pissed. Are we justified in our anger? Perhaps. I believe the anger, while passionate is misguided. We were told one thing, and when we did what we were told, something else happened. It is as simple as that. We believed what we were taught for two decades, we played by the rules, and then when it came time to get our rewards for playing the rules, the rules changed. We cannot blame our parents for taking us down this path, they have been blind-sided as well. Many of our parents pensions, 401k’s, and retirement packages have disintegrated right in front of their eyes. They played by the rules for longer than I had, and they got burned just the same.
It is up to my generation to take ownership of what happened. We signed the papers. We agreed to take on the debt. We took a risk, and we failed. It is now time for my generation to pick up the pieces, learn from this, and to teach the next generation that they are entitled to nothing, just as we are. We thought we were entitled to something, and our anger displays our senses. We must teach the next group of college students to be wise in their decision-making. We must teach them that a degree does not mean anything unless it is used correctly. We much teach our children to weigh big decisions carefully. We must teach them that some cultural truths do not move from generation to generation. They must be prepared for that, for if they are not, their anger and frustration will be worse than ours. For we felt their pain and anguish, then we lied to them.
My father’s lie was out of wishful thinking. Neither of my parents have a college degree. Maybe his advice was a cautionary tale. Don’t be like me he would imply. I have my degree, but life is different now. If I choose to sell my daughter on the same lie my dad told me, when I know it not to be true, my lie would be out of willful ignorance. That would be a shame.