I was considering, recently, the few signs posted on the Web by some about how recent college graduates have such specialized degrees that they shouldn't be surprised they can't find gainful employment. This got me thinking, where does the blame really lie? Who encouraged these students to be so specialized? Where were the college advisors when they headed down that path?
I am approaching the completion of my Master's degree in Adult Education and Training and while I am hopeful, I will continue to be gainfully employed, I regret returning to college and taking on student loans to pay for it. I often wonder if I had had a chance to "try" the courses before buying into the program, I may not be looking down the barrel of $60,000 in college debt. Had I realized that it was going to cost me an additional car payment for ten years. When I am done paying off my student loans, I will have no time left to set that money aside for my retirement. When I started back to school in 2008, I figured, two years down the road, I would be able to start a small business and quit my "day job." After $40,000 in loans, I realized that I was never going to recoup my investment. But! I couldn't see myself just quitting, having to pay back loans with nothing to show for them. So, what does one do? We find another program that "might" bring about the ability to recoup the investment. That is how I ended up in my current program. I booked the remainder of my outstanding loans to make sure that I was not going to have to add any more to my student loans, but that apparently that wasn't enough. So, in order to have something to show for my degree, I have to apply for, yet another, student loan. When all is said and done, I will be in over $60,000 in debt and no additional income potential.
So, would I have been better off not attending? Or, would I have been better off with some consideration and counseling? What about all these young people who were interested in specialized subject matter? Where were the curriculum and academic counselors when these students headed down the this road?
To answer the first questions: I simply regret the amount of time and money wasted heading down the wrong road. Spending time with some fully informed persons and having the ability "try before we buy" would have helped me find a better path. If I had a chance to go back to 2008 and speak to 38 year old me, I would have said, "if you want to go back to school, think about what you do every day and how you can be better with education, and DON'T TAKE ON A STUDENT LOAN! Use your 401K or save up until you have enough to pay for school."
Now, as far as these young students and their specialized degrees...
What would I tell these students when these students were registering for these classes? First and foremost, I would do my best to express the importance to consider the real skills and knowledge needed in the working world. Liberal Arts, general studies, degrees, for non-skill-specialized students, is a great way to show that you can read, write and reason. Those skills are vital today and tomorrow, despite the technologies and advances. If a potential employee shows the ability to learn, they are valuable above and beyond today's technical skills.
So, what should college counselors consider when helping students determine what path is best for them? Pay attention to the student and the environment within which they will be looking for work in just a few years. Help students understand that if they want to be gainfully employed when they graduate, take the time to consider their skills and what will make them a valuable candidate upon completion of their degree.
I believe it is time to reconsider how students attend and complete their college educations at all levels. If you want to be a specialized degree seeker, then you will need to make sure you are the very best in your field. If you are not going to be the very best in the field, maybe something more well rounded is your better path.
Caryn Morgan, corporate trainer, obtained her Masters Degree in Adult Education and Training