American higher education is in a complete free-fall.
Student loan debt averages out at $29,400 per student. 53.6% of all college graduates are underemployed or unemployed. The United States has more janitors with chemistry degrees than it has chemists. There are more than 50 universities and colleges in the United States that charge more than $60,000 per year. And the average return on investment for degrees is in a steady decline.
And this free-fall catches very real people in its midst.
Bright-eyed and enthusiastic at 18, high school graduates are expected to enroll in the best university of their choice, lest they be forced to work hard the rest of their lives. Choosing a school that has manageable costs is important, yes, but not nearly as important as getting into a school where they can land a job making the big bucks after they get that coveted BA or BS. Students anxiously study for exams like the SAT and ACT years in advance, make sure to pad their resumes doing as many activities as possible in high school (e.g., “Drum Major, Football Kicker, FBLA President, Soccer Player, Basket Weaving Club President, Clown Troupe Director, Musical Lead”), get seen by the right members of the community, prepare those writing samples and maybe, just maybe, they’ll land at that dream school.
They’re told of the value of going to college, and the value of being part of an intellectual elite (while more and more students are pushed to college, thus making the elite a larger and larger class). Nobody goes for that, though. They go to land a job. Four years go by, and many leave disappointed. If they are lucky enough to land jobs, most end upworking somewhere they hate, or doing something that doesn’t require a degree. In short, they end up victims of the aforementioned free-fall.
If you are going to be a college student soon, you’ve likely heard this doomsday scenario. You’ve likely told yourself you won’t be one of those kids who goes in with dreams and desires to change the world, only to come out a cog for a large corporate finance machine or doing something you generally hate. No! You’ll go against the grain.
If you’re a current college student, you probably remember being the soon-to-be college student. You probably also remember recently fretting about not landing the high-level internship all your friends yearned for, not getting that interview with Goldman, not being able to study abroad in Rome this coming year. You think the enthusiasm of the incoming freshman is cute, but in a kind of “oh, you haven’t learned yet,” kind of way. You probably don’t remember all the things you wanted to do with your life while you were still in high school. Those things are gone. You’re part of the real-world now.
If you’re a recent graduate, you probably remember fretting about that study abroad, or that internship in Manhattan. You probably also wish you had gained some kind of work experience (beyond the rare work-study position), because that rejection from the job you wanted, on grounds you didn’t have enough work experience, burned. You feel misled. You felt like society led you to do something you weren’t entirely sure of, and now you are forced to pay the cost.
But you don’t have to be the (rightfully) confused and angry recent graduate. You can regain that enthusiasm of the high school student, ready to take charge of your own life. You don’t have to become part of the statistics cited above.
You get the degree to get the good job, but everybody else has the degree and the job is gone. You got it to use as a signal, but the signal is weak. You got it so you can get the job you want and have control of your own life, but without the job, you’re forced to work underemployed somewhere and put your dreams on hold.
What employers need is a new signal. They need a sign that you are somebody who stands apart from the pack and is a person willing to take risks. They need somebody who is willing to take control of their education. I can’t offer a one-size-fits-all way to seize control of your education, because that would mean you aren’t seizing control of it.
Rethinking your education — and thereby rethinking the likelihood that you become one of the statistics — starts with you making the very real — and sometimes very scary — decision to seize control. For your whole life, you’ve waited to have permission: permission to go to this or that school; permission to take this or that class; permission to work this or that job. It is that mindset that got us to where we are today with higher education. The people who rethink higher education — whether it be their own or the system as a whole — don’t wait for permission. They can have control over their own lives without permission.
That’s what is at the core of a new paradigm of higher education — both for yourself and for society: acting without permission. Seek the job before having the degree. Take the class you always wanted to take. Build yourself up as if you were a product you’re trying to sell. If you seize control now, you’ll be at the helms come hell or high water.
You can take charge of your education by applying to Praxis today.