Make college work for you, or not

As most of you know by now I live in a college town.  The college population in the fall and spring semesters actually exceeds the population of the town’s residents.  Combined with the cottage people along the lake and the small unique businesses that result from this mix of people and ideas it’s a lovely place to live.  One problem I have being so close to the college students is watching their disappointment when they graduate to learn they can’t find employment.  I have a few ideas about college education today.

This is not a negative post, but one with ideas that have been flowing though my brain for years now.  It’s a post about finding happiness, for that reason all the pictures here are things that  make me happy.

Wanting to tell me she loved me, she made a heart out of dominoes and asked her mom to send the picture of it to me. Love is the most important ingredient in life

First off I want to state that I am a college graduate, and enjoyed many of the classes I took.  My college had a wonderful daycare and elementary school right on the campus which my children also loved.  My children were taught by individuals with Doctorate degrees who taught using the Montessori method.  The education they received far surpassed what they later received in the public schools.  They were able to have many field trips around the campus which included the planetarium, science museum, art gallery,and  theatrical and musical performances just for them, and so much more.

Catching a baby’s first laugh

Why did I go to college?  Finding myself a single mother with two small boys, I feared I would fail in supporting them properly, so looking at my job history and what I could combine with a degree I choose Business with a minors in computer science and  psychology. I basically fell into the trap of believing the piece of paper at the end of the experience would guarantee my financial security.

Fresh picked food mmm.

I graduated in December of 1990, but knew I was in trouble by the summer of 1990 when the economy changed and the business positions I had envisioned applying for began to be eliminated, leaving the job market saturated with plenty of experienced people seeking the few positions I was seeking.

Happening upon art in nature.

I never found work in my field.  Since my past working experience was tied to my degree I now found I couldn’t return to what I did beforehand as employers now saw me as over qualified.

Having someone to share a meal with

I struggled more after college than I ever did before.  Which brings me to today.

When I graduated my total expenditures for one year was under $6,000 as tuition was $2,500 per semester.  The same college now lists on it’s website an estimated $16,427.80 per year!!!

A comfortable spot to curl up in

So is a college education mandatory today?

I still live in the same community as the college I attended, it’s a beautiful town and don’t want to live any where else.   But this also gives me a close look at what graduates are encountering when they graduate.  Many of them are finding jobs that are totally unrelated to their degrees, when they find jobs.

hobbies, or work I enjoy and has a benefit to me or someone else.

The graduates I am talking about didn’t choose a degree that at the time appeared to be one in which they would struggle.  These are people who studied Elementary Education, Psychology,  Criminal Justice, Social work,  even Environmental Science (which you would think would be a good field with all the “green” jobs popping up), Accounting,  Computer Science, and so on.

An unexpected guest

Instead, these graduates are working as restaurant servers, painters, maintenance/janitorial, cashiers at grocery stores….if they find work at all.  I watch as many resort to walking around with their heads hung low as they are drowning in student loan debt and can’t see a way out of their situation. These are lovely people who should be happy to be living in their early adult years thinking life holds out promises of happiness in their future, but instead they can’t see past today.

watching a sunset

A couple of days ago I spotted an article that said college graduates make $21,000+ if they get a college degree, the headline to the article asked “what are you waiting for?”  It seems we have been brainwashed to believe the only way to a good life is to receive a college education.  But do we really need it?

Lasting friendship

Marty Nemko states:

Colleges are quick to argue that a college education is more about enlightenment than employment.

What?  If that is true, then our young people need to be told that a college is in the business to make money, pure and simple.  Their whole reason for being is to make money, not to worry about what happens to you once you graduate. If they really cared what happened to you after graduation, they would partner with local businesses and large corporations to frame their studies to what the businesses want. They would only accept as many students in a course of study as there are jobs available for that position.

A good football game, and it doesn’t have to be the pros

We are hearing now that only 1 in 4 graduates will ever find work in their chosen field.   It is reported that in  2011, 53.6% of college graduates are unemployed or underemployed (and not working in their chosen field) What can we do instead?  First we need to know that we are perfectly matched for the field we intend to study.  We can only know that after being in the work force for a while.

Sharing a new experience

When young people ask me about college here’s what I tell them:

  1. After high school, move out of your parent’s home and get a job.  You can experiment with several types of work during a 2 – 4 year period to see what you like
  2. Then apply to college if you still want to go.

Why would I tell them this?

  1. Most find something they enjoy and are successful at and choose not to go into debt for college
  2. Some businesses will pay to put you through college to allow you to advance within the company if they see you as a good  investment
  3. Once you are out on your own for at least 2 years, you won’t have your financial aid based on your parent’s income, which means you may very well have much lower debt to pay off once you graduate. Check the college you want to attend to learn exactly how long you must be free of parental support before you apply.
Playing in the fall leaves

Of the individuals who I’ve told these things to, not one has attended college.  They are successful in what they have found, like what they are doing, and every one of them has expressed that they would have been miserable in the field they were going to major had they found a job in that area. They are working in corrections, management, sales, as a mechanic, and even in the veterinarian field.  One surprisingly found she loves working as a restaurant server and is able to earn enough in four mornings to be home with her daughter more as a single mother, completely disregarding any plans of attending college…ever.

Listening to the rain

Most of us don’t know what we will want to do at the age of 18, especially if we haven’t tried out various employment opportunities prior to attending college. Wealth Pilgrim, has an article on the 19 great jobs you can get without a college degree.  You will also find a checklist which will help you find what work you are suited for.

Watching the cloud formations, every day is different

So how should we be using the colleges?

As I see it, we shouldn’t worry about receiving that piece of paper which is supposed to enable us to find our dreams.  We should instead use the college facilities as a resource, like the public library, or even the internet.  If a college is there to “enlighten” us, then we should use it as such.

  1. Get rid of the fees associated with each class, the student unions, activity fees, medical center fees and so on
  2. Publish the classes available and let us choose if a class is worth our time to take.
  3. Lower the prices of the classes, allowing more people to study ideas important to them
  4. Instead of applying for work  and listing your degrees, list the classes you took freely to show you are well rounded and interested in continuing to learn.

With the economy the way it is currently, and in my opinion not about to turn around, we need to first know how we want to live, then decide how to live that life.  Courtney found she was simply working to buy crap, not to make a living. If you want to take a new look at life check out Courtney’s article.

The smell of the crisp winter air.

Let’s look at life a new way.  What makes you happy? How little do you need to work to have that happiness?  Is there something you want to learn just for your own benefit?  Le’s remember a college is a business, it’s like any other business, take advantage of what they offer to benefit your happiness, not as a means to an end.

The stillness of the night.

Do you see college differently than I do?  Please, leave your comments, it’s only through open discussion that we can explore  new ideas to learn and grow from them.  So what do you think?




  1. I have a university B.Comm degree, but I work in healthcare, nothing to do with my degree at all. Though just having a degree might have helped me get into the job. I would definitely recommend post secondary education as an educational and socialization experience, but I would also not have a problem with either of my children attending community college for a trade instead of university for a degree. I managed mine without any debt, but I’m not sure that would be so easy to do now. I also had to work my *ss off (30 hours a week) while in school, just to make ends meet. In the end, I’m sure I would have been a better student if I had more time to focus on studies.

    In the end, I want my kids to be educated, but whether it is a university degree or college diploma doesn’t seem to matter. The education and socialization are the biggest parts, the focus on career can come later. And career or trade, that doesn’t really matter either, but then we work to live, not live to work. Our time off with family is much more important than our time spent at work.


    • I too worked while attending school, it wasn’t fun, but like everyone else I found a way to make it work. The issue of socialization is a tough one for me. I home schooled my boys beginning when they were 9 and 12. I found they socialized more through that process than while in school. I do agree with learning constantly, through home schooling my boys have a great love of learning. Here in the states the easiest, and cheapest, way to take a class would be through the community colleges. I did use that as a resource for my boys when they were high school age to round out what I was teaching them.

      I do completely agree with your statement that family time is much more important than our work time. Family should always come first.


  2. Yet another fabulous post. I too have a college degree, and I’m still not sure if it was worth it or not. I was one of those kids who just went to college because that’s what you were supposed to do. I actually didn’t really want to go… didn’t particularly not want to go either – it sort of felt like advanced summer camp to me, and my family didn’t exactly give me a choice in the matter. I was completely directionless at that age… thankfully I had a liberal arts education where I wasn’t forced to choose a career path. I think I changed my major 7 times and finally ended up as a music major by default… because those were the only classes I’d been taking all along – just because I liked them. I did end up running a music school, but I sort of doubt that the sum total of my music school earnings equals what we paid in tuition, and really what I learned studying classical music wasn’t terribly relevant to running a folk music school.

    When I look back on it, what I REALLY wanted to do at that point in my life was to travel. I would have given just about anything for a Eurorail pass, a youth hostile card and about 6 months to do whatever I wanted. The thing is, when you compare what that would have cost to the ridiculous amount my family spent on my “education” I think it would have been paltry by comparison, and the experience would have been at least as valuable if not much more so. My parents had $40K saved in my college fund, and the school just took it all and then some. I can’t help but wonder what life experiences I could have had if I’d just been given free range to use the money as I saw fit.

    I’m rambling again, but I just feel sick when I hear stories of kids coming out of school with massive amounts of debt and ridiculously specialized majors. It’s like they start out in a huge hole and have to spend the rest of their lives digging out. No wonder everybody is so tied to the work-spend-debt-work-some-more dynamic… they’re chained to it before they even have a chance to look around and see what they might want out of life. I think your advice is absolutely wonderful, and really wish there had been someone in my life who would have supported my wanderlust back in those years.


    • While I believe there are many interesting courses available, although out of my price range, the experience of traveling and seeing the world is equally if not more educational than sitting in a classroom. My grandfather worked at General Electric, they closed down for two weeks every summer to do maintenance on all the machines, he would save up all his vacation days and sick days and take them at the same time, giving him 6 weeks off each summer. My grandparents traveled all over the states during that time period each year. As a result of this when my grandmother filled in at the post office for holiday help (sorting mail by zip codes), her supervisors couldn’t understand how someone without a high school diploma knew so much about each state and the zip codes. She told them it was in her head because she visited each one.

      After the first few years in school I began to home school my boys. They can tell you about how clear and crystal clean the Mississippi River is up north in Minnesota and how smelly and dirty it is in Mississippi. they can tell you that the arch in St. Louis is bigger than you can imagine from seeing it on TV, and they can tell you about living on a working farm with families from France and Australia. There were plenty of conversations about the cultural, geopolitical and other differences. One of the funniest moments we had was when my boys, thinking they could show how smart they were quoted a book they had in which it told them Australians say “I’m pregnant” to mean they were full from too much food. They got quite a laugh and informed my boys that wasn’t true, so much for book smarts.


  3. I am currently studying with the Open Uni in the UK. As I started awhile back on low income I do get my courses paid for. The new system starting this year means I have to pay thousands. For me it has been worth it, not from the career aspect so much but in how it has helped my confidence to grow. Having said that though some of the most insiprational and successful people I know were high school drop out who simply followed their passion


    • I’m glad the university has been a good experience for you. I think there is a lot we can learn from the professors and many of the classes offered, but question whether we should go so far in debt believing that is the way to ensure a career and financial stability. Surprisingly, Bill Gates of Microsoft, does not have a college degree, so it’s possible to reach any destination in life without the degree. Good luck and keep enjoying your classes.


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