I rarely try to tackle subjects beyond music on this blog, but on March 3, I saw an article that was so infuriatingly irresponsible, that I felt I must share my absolutely enraged thoughts. The article, titled “Rethinking College as Student Loan Burdens Rise,” and accompanying video, encourages parents to dissuade their children from going to college because the financial burden of student loans outweighs the earning potential one now possesses with a four-year degree. James Altucher of Formula Capital implies that college, to most kids, is an excuse to waste thousands of their parents’ dollars, getting wasted for four years. To him, the life experience one gets in high school is sufficient enough to enter the workforce. Rather than exploring alternatives to loans, or calling for action to be taken about the high cost of education, he suggests that kids should learn how to “sell a product, and build a network of connections” because “that’s going to be more valuable.” He claims that “college is a scam” and “that motivated kids are going to make money whether or not they go to college,” as if motivated children will only aspire to be salesmen.
I graduated from college in June of 2009, and have yet to find a full time job. I’m $20,000 dollars in debt, and as each payment approaches, I get more anxious about the fact that I’ve only done freelance and temp work since I left school. I knew I might be in this situation as the economy started to collapse in my last few semesters. But I still believe that getting my degree was the right decision, and my reasons to take the path that I did were not simply to get the highest paying job.
The route I took to higher education was anything but typical, and was entirely driven by my desire to be a music journalist. If speaking from a purely financial perspective, one could easily argue this was an extremely foolish career to pursue. I guess I still haven’t matured from the adolescent music geek that wanted the world to know how great the bands she listened to are, but it’s something I haven’t ever been able to let go of.
When I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up at the age of 11, my grades suggested I was definitely college bound. I was an academic over achiever on the honor roll, and I had every intention of keeping my GPA up, so I could study journalism at a prestigious school. My focus started to get blurry by the time I hit high school, though. My grades started to slip, as I crippled under the pressure of AP level workloads. As a lifelong geek, I never learned how to be comfortable in the school’s social environment, and when I stopped excelling in the classroom, I started to dread going to school. By my sophomore year, my motivation had completely disappeared. I started cutting class to the point where people were more surprised to see me at school than when I was absent. The idea of being a music journalist seemed unreachable because I clearly wasn’t getting into a four-year university right out of my senior year.
On a lot of the days that I skipped class, I was waiting outside of a Los Angeles venue. My time seemed better spent getting a spot in front for one of my favorite bands, and I was always able to make new friends in line. One of these friends was a kid from Riverside that I had met at a Distillers’ show in September of 2003. When he told me that he was 16 and only taking five classes, I had to know how he was so lucky. He explained he was actually going to community college instead of high school. He had taken a test to get his “California Certificate of Proficiency,” a kind of high school diploma equivalent that was acceptable for admission to community college. After finishing his Associate’s degree, he could transfer to a four-year school. His high school transcripts wouldn’t matter; as a transfer student, only his work at community college would count.
I took the test that April, left high school a week before finals in my sophomore year, and started Pierce Community College in the fall. Within my first week of classes, I remembered that I did actually like school, and started to put effort into my schoolwork again. I was planning on transferring to a state school, so I wasn’t stressed about having a 4.0. Instead, I was instead focused on learning as much as I could from each class. Ironically, I got the highest marks once I shed the idea that top grades were the primary goal of school, like the idea that a job is only worth the amount of money you make.
In 2007, I was accepted to UCLA, where I received my Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies last year. Unlike high school, the majority of my professors at both institutions were incredibly passionate about the subjects that they taught. Classes at UCLA like “Art as a Moral Action,” and “Social Advocacy and the Visual Arts,” taught me not only how to properly analyze and approach art, but that life is about more than how high your salary is; it’s about finding a way to use your talents and passions in a way that’s beneficial to your community. As my “Art as a Moral Action” professor Peter Sellars put it, “you can either be an artist or an asshole.”
This does not mean you have to enter music, painting, or writing to live your life as an artist. It means doing work that actually means something to you, and like an artist, dedicating yourself to mastering whatever craft you’ve chosen. For many, whether they decide to go to art or medical school, college is a good first step in building the skills needed to perfect a craft. It may not be a guarantee for an immediate paycheck, but isn’t this country’s obsession with instant gratification what got us into this mess in the first place?
Yes, I thought going to UCLA was going to make it easier to earn a living, and yes, that decision is costing me money I don’t necessarily have. I was completely apprehensive about taking out most of my loans in my senior year. I would have been able to cover tuition with scholarships, but I needed the loans so I could live on campus. I didn’t think it was a good idea, but my mother convinced me that it would be a good experience, and I would do better academically if I were closer to school.
As crazy as it was to live with five other girls in a two-bedroom suite, those nine months were well worth the money I owe now. This wasn’t just for the easy access to parties. Yes, the shot glasses were out every weekend, but during the week, we were serious about getting our work done. My roommates included a Global Studies major, a Theater major, an undeclared freshman considering applying to communication studies, and two girls with hopes of teaching someday. On top of their class syllabi, they juggled extra curricular activities like acting in school plays, mentoring kids, and co-organizing “Dance Marathon,” an entirely student run benefit for children with AIDS. Hugging these girls when Obama won on November 4th had to have been worth at least a few thousand dollars.
I can imagine my friends who did not graduate yet are going through hell with the financial stress the UC Regents board has put on them. I felt so proud when I spotted one of my former roommates in a video of the massive student protests that took place on campus the day the board decided to raise tuition $3,000 the following year. When I saw a kid getting tasered in another video, my stomach turned. For Mr. Altucher to write the value of an education off so quickly is a slap in the face to my former peers that are willing to put themselves through physical harm for it.
My media classes at UCLA also stressed the mass media’s potential to profoundly influence its audience, in ways that can sometimes be detrimental. If a person does not develop proper critical thinking skills, others can easily mold their ideas. Marde Gregory, another professor of mine, once said that the purpose of college was to learn how to think. Perhaps this isn’t worth much to some people, but at least for me, I’m grateful to at least be able to tell when I’m being presented with an incredibly fallible argument.