Lies I Learned in School: “You Need a College Degree to be Successful”

September 6th, 2010 by Mandi

I do not wish to make this blog into a soapbox for bashing public schools.  I attended public schools for my entire K-12 career and overall, I’m happy with how I turned out.  However, the system perpetuates a number of myths that can seriously impact students’ lives.  In the proceeding series of posts, I will expose some of the more common myths–or lies–that the public education  system wants you to believe.  Please understand that I am not taking issue with individual teachers, but with the system itself.

A billboard touting the achievements of our local schools

Due to recent changes in state policy, students in Indiana may now attend any school in the state tuition-free.  Local districts receive funding based upon how many seats are filled in their classrooms.  This has encouraged schools to compete against one another.  In the face of decreasing enrollment, our city’s public schools have launched an advertising campaign to attract students.  Their claim to fame?  Eighty percent of their 2009 graduates pursued a college education.  What they don’t advertise is that their graduation rate is below 75%.  However, the greater problem for me is not their use of statistics.  It is the implication that the more students who go to college, the better.  This lie cost me years of my life and tens of thousands of dollars.

I entered school on the gifted track, and continued on it until I graduated high school.  I honestly cannot remember a time when college was not the only option presented to me.  It was commonly accepted that the higher your educational attainment, the higher your salary.  Statistically, this may be true, but the statistics only present the silver lining of this dark cloud that hangs over many disappointed college graduates.

There are a few important conditions to this assumption that I wish someone would have told me about.  First, these statistics do not apply to all disciplines.  Students in the humanities and liberal arts will be lucky to make half of the average $53,000 earned by people with a bachelor’s degrees.  Second, student loan debt cancels out much of the extra money earned as the result of a college degree.  When I was working full-time with a master’s degree, after factoring in my student loans, I was taking home less than nine dollars per hour.  Chances are, had I stayed with my after school job in fast food and moved up the ranks, I would have come out ahead financially.  Student loan debt often takes years to repay, and may force some families to keep two incomes when one parent would have otherwise chosen to stay at home with their children.

Lest I appear as an ingrate, I should say that I do not regret earning a bachelor’s degree.  (The master’s was the biggest mistake of my life, and I would have been better served by an associate’s to begin with.)  Though I may have earned the same amount of money at another job, my degrees have helped me obtain jobs that I enjoy.   When my children reach the age where they are considering college, I plan to present them with all the pros and cons.  Whatever path they choose, I want them to choose it for the right reasons, not because it is the next step on their educational track.  I urge schools to do the same.  Pushing everyone toward college may seem noble, but in the end it results in a bunch of jaded adults who wish someone had been brutally honest.