Mind-Expanding or a ‘Capitalist Hellscape’? How Our Survey Respondents View College.
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“A degree will just take me to where I’ve always wanted.”
Andrew Rendon, 54
Student majoring in social work
I planned to go to college. I didn’t want to stop education at 12th grade. About 30 percent of my family has a degree.
Ten years ago, I assaulted an officer, so I got arrested. They put me in a STAR [Supervised Treatment After Release] program. The drug and alcohol counselors, I would see them five times a week. I got my GED in 2016. I thought I could be a drug and alcohol counselor. I’ve been studying since then in human services, and now I’m going for case management.
Community college is enjoyable. I don’t find it a waste of time. I find my goals have been met. I never thought I’d be this far into it, but I see now that it was worthwhile. [Rendon attends San Bernardino Valley College.]
Not achieving a degree made life hard. It caused depression in me, it was hard to get a job, and when I would try to go to adult school for a GED test, I would fail.
In June of this year, I should have a cap-and-gown ceremony. I hope to have a career in social work and just continue till the retirement age, maybe 10 years more of actual employment in social work. I’ll be helpful in times of crisis, either in domestic issues or emotions.
A degree will just take me to where I’ve always wanted since I left that STAR program 10 years ago. — As told to Charlotte Matherly
“College is a capitalist hellscape.”
Madison Rowell, 21
Student majoring in media studies with a minor in psychology
I’m a senior at the University of Akron. I started college in the middle of the pandemic. My first year of college was completely online, and I know the university was struggling. They fired staff and downsized a lot of programs.
Towards the end of high school, all the teachers and counselors push you to start applying to college. I realized: “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
My school had a career tech program. I really liked the idea of media and communications. I decided that I wanted a career in film.
At this point, most of my friends who decided to go to college have dropped out. A lot of them are making pretty good wages. Could it be better if they had a degree? Probably. But college is so expensive.
I don’t think it’s worth it, especially when there are so many valuable career programs that get you prepared for good-paying jobs.
I definitely considered dropping out, especially during my junior year. The quality of my education did not feel like it was where it was supposed to be.
All of my friends agree that college is a capitalist hellscape. They keep raising tuition, fees, anything they can think of to milk money out of students, but they haven’t been putting that money towards anything that makes a difference for our experience. — As told to Amita Chatterjee
“I showed them, hey, it can be done.”
Billie Bean-Grant, 69
Dallas-Fort Worth, Tex.
I am from a small town in Indiana. My perception of college in my younger years was that I could not wait to get the hell out of that town. I had a lot of brothers, and they were always in my way of getting a date.
I am the child of sharecroppers. My parents were very strong believers in education. My late dad always told me, “Of all the things that can be taken away from you, your education is not one of them.”
It was not an expectation to attend college because nobody had the funds. My friends were all going off to college, and I wanted to be part of that crowd. I got an undergraduate degree in communications at Purdue University.
I was the first college-educated person in the family. My eight younger brothers and sisters all went after me. I showed them, hey, it can be done.
At the time, I would have told you how difficult it was being a poor college student. But in retrospect, it was literally the best time of my life. What I did not really fully embrace was how much my mind was expanded. And being an individual who has an opinion at the ready, I was now able to answer questions that were broader than what I had been exposed to in younger years.
I did not have to take out very many loans; I had scholarships; I did work-study. Looking at the cost of education now, I can’t tell you how I would have ever made it in this day and age.
But if someone asked me if they should go to college, I’d tell them, “Not only yeah, but hell yeah.”
The cost has to be evaluated against the return, and the return is not always financial. What did I get out of college? It stretched my mind and helped me understand my underlying purpose in this world. You can’t put a cost on that. — As told to Calli McMurray
“I don’t believe that it should cost so much for people to learn and better themselves.”
Michelle Quinlivan, 51
Worked various jobs, most recently in manufacturing
Grand Junction, Colo.
I’m a Gen Xer, so it was expected that we would graduate and go off to college, but my grades weren’t good enough for a scholarship. I wanted to get a master’s in English education.
At my high school, we had a guidance counselor who was overwhelmed, and that was pretty much it for college support. We also had people from the military come in and say: “Come with us, and we’ll pay for your college.”
Right out of high school I joined the carnival. It was fun, and I think everyone should travel while they’re young. I’ve had jobs over the years where I did construction clean-up, ran dog kennels, worked in fast food — which I don’t recommend, which is another reason to get an education.
It would be nice to go back and get some education. It’s just very, very expensive. We have a college in my town. But they’re geared toward the younger generation, so there’s not a lot of help or scholarships for people my age.
I have an aunt who went back to college in her 40s and got a teaching degree. My daughter went to college for a couple of years, and she just couldn’t afford it anymore.
I do think college helps build a career. The better your education is, the better off you are. I wish everybody could afford college because I don’t believe that it should cost so much for people to learn and better themselves. — As told to Amita Chatterjee
“In my time, it didn’t make a difference.”
Sally McKay, 71
Retired; most recently a hospital administrative assistant
I never considered going to college. Nobody I knew went to college. So, sad to say, it was not important at that time.
We had some very smart people in my high-school graduating class, and I would assume they went to college. I wanted to work. I wanted to be independent financially and get away from my parents’ home. That happened by getting a good job at a hospital, a clerical job. And I was never a good student.
I did just fine without it. All I ever did was encourage my children to do well in school at the time, never encouraged them to go further. However, my daughter did get her bachelor’s in social work. She got a new job and was very happy with that. My cousin is a well-known artist in California. Because he stayed with college, he has done really well in the art world.
I thought about going to college later in life. But I don’t drive, college is about 20 miles away, and I don’t have a computer — I don’t want one. Don’t have internet, don’t want it.
We’re pretty farm-related and simple.
I recommend higher education for anyone entering the job market. In my time, it didn’t make a difference in my work to have a higher education. I got a job because I sent a hand-printed résumé, and they were only looking for someone with good handwriting. At the time that I was in high school, we were getting a very high degree of education, if you paid attention.
That’s changed. I don’t think that young people are motivated to learn. — As told to Amita Chatterjee
“It’s a bit of a racket.”
Tony Might, 38
Stephens City, Va.
College was a given. It wasn’t necessarily explicitly said, like “you’re going to college,” but there was that unspoken expectation.
I went to George Mason. I went for a couple years, and there were some personal issues that I had to deal with, so I ended up not doing so great. I decided that I needed to take a break and get away from things for a little bit, sort of reset my head.
I ended up going back to school, but first I went to Northern Virginia Community College to get my associate degree before moving back into a full four-year college. After a couple different career changes, I ended up getting a bachelor’s of individualized studies. I guess it took about 17 years to get it, but there was a lot of downtime.
If I were to change anything, I probably would have started at a community college first. Community college, because of the smaller class sizes and the ability to say, “Hey, can you please go over that in a little more detail,” helped me a lot more than the four-year college.
I’m a big proponent of universal free college. Looking at the difference between what I paid for the community college versus what you pay at George Mason, I feel like you’re getting the exact same level of education at a much better rate. It’s a bit of a racket.
There are so many things that you can be successful with that don’t necessarily need the traditional college path. Too much importance is placed on a piece of paper that says, “Yes, I went, I did the classes, I did my time.” — As told to Charlotte Matherly
“You don’t necessarily need a college certification or diploma to ‘make it.’”
Luna Liming, 20
Works at local library; also a musician and aspires to be an automotive technician
I did complete high school. I had a graduation ceremony, but I was doing homeschooling, and my grandmother never submitted any of the paperwork. So I didn’t receive a diploma.
Growing up, I assumed college was this huge, expensive place you only get into with really good grades, but you have to go there if you ever want to get any decent-paying job.
I was pretty much told by everyone around me, “Oh, you’re going to college after high school.” Nowadays you don’t necessarily need a college certification or diploma to “make it.” I would say that it’s hard to get into the career path that I want — automotive technician — because of it.
Had I been in public school and had resources to push me towards college sooner, I probably would have gone for something I would have regretted going for.
The idea that after you’re done with high school, you need to go to college and get a degree in something and go make a ton of money, is a perspective largely created by a world pre-tech boom.
With the creative fields, you can learn just about anything you need online. My partner is doing a free coding course, and it ends in them getting certifications and a ton of experience.
There’s this stigma where people assume if you don’t go to college, you’re flipping burgers for the rest of your life or you’re a cashier at Walmart. I work for the library, and I didn’t need a degree for that.
It’s become so normalized to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to schools that it’s expected for people above a certain age.
And if that doesn’t spell a problem in the system, I don’t know what does. — As told to Amita Chatterjee