The College Degree—Can I get my money back?

I have often thought what a cool thing it would be if you could get a refund for every bad experience you had to pay for. Don’t like the movie—give me back my money. Had a greasy mayonnaise-laden whopper, when you asked for light with no mayo—give me back my money. But even better, what if you could get your money from colleges, if you failed to get a job within six months, or better yet—could forfeit payments of these massive loan debts. You can rest assured, if that were the case, these so-called institutions of higher-learning would MAKE SURE, they’d find something for you to do.

Now of course we know that would never happen, but it brings up the question of relevancy. Should a college degree offer you anything that will be relevant, or more importantly practical in obtaining employment? Practicality tends to be sneered at by the intellectual, and yet outside of academia—meaning the REAL WORLD—practicality is a big deal. Let’s take myself for example. During my first tenure in the institute of higher-learning I was an English major. In the minds of most people that meant I was going to be a teacher, because no one could see any relevancy to this degree in the real world. Shakespeare’s nice—but what else can you do with that?

For a long while I rebelled against this notion. I loved literature; loved to write; and like a good liberal arts follower, I sincerely believed in the importance of intellectual cultivation, almost as if it were a spiritual vocation. And yet as the years went by, I started to question this, and what I actually was learning. Going back to the world of literature, the vast majority of works studied are part of the “Canon”—an almost mythological categorization drafted by scholars. Works in this canon, are nearly always from writers long dead, who have been vaulted to nearly saint like status. And yet, there are plenty of thriving artists flourishing right now, who are producing masterful works, and engaging in their culture and environment, which the academy is totally silent on. Should it not be relevant for the young budding storyteller to participate and be part of the community of their fellow contemporaries?

I suppose the debate will rage on, but for me learning is something you do life-long (if you keep your mind open). Colleges can be quite grand, but at the end of the day forcing a whole generation of youth to start their adult lives with 10, 20, 30 or even 100 thousand dollars in debt—all for the purpose of being intellectually stimulated, with no practical aim is unconscionable. Perhaps…even criminal. And although I still liked being an English major, if I had the ability to get a refund…I would.

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8 Responses to The College Degree—Can I get my money back?

  1. Mister Orpheus says:

    This is an excellent post. Learning is essential, but universities of today pile on debt as if it is a human need. Never mind the annual raise in tuition and financial aid loans that cripple minorities.
    Fantastic blog, look forward to reading more.

    • cpdesir says:

      Thank you very much. I’m glad that you like. I felt the need to put that out there, because it is something that frustrates me, and so many of my fellow students. I feel this generation got sold on going to University, only to come back out with massive debts, and little to show for it. Learning can happen in all forms.

  2. Jade says:

    The most important skill you gain from an English degree is the ability to communicate – and whether written or spoken you can now do it better than most. Society is built on this, so having honed and crafted this skill (or hobby, as ignorant people often seem to view it) makes you incredibly useful to employers. Eloquence and the ability to successfully craft an argument are just as useful as knowledge; more so, in most job interviews! Jx

    • cpdesir says:

      Yes I would agree with you on that. But in terms of my personal experience and many years on job interviews, never once did an employer view my being an English major as an asset. In addition there are plenty of people whom I worked with who did not have this communication skill, and were able to be more effectively find and maintain employment, because usually what an employer values most is experience. But practicality aside, my biggest contention isn’t so much the subject of English, but rather the enormous expense and debt students accrue in obtaining their education. I have friends from Europe who are able to go to college, and not come out with close to 100k in loans. This is what I feel is the major issue.

      • Jade says:

        I guess I’m lucky in regards to fees and debts – I have a student loan to pay off but manageable instalments just vanish out of my account every month. Is there a different system in the US? I also managed to get to uni before UK tuition fees were increased, so can only gasp in horror at the fees expected of US undergrads and international students.

        As to interviews etc though, you have to educate people as to how valuable your skills are! English graduates just aren’t taught how to market their skills at uni, which is a huge flaw in the system. My partner and I set up a tuition agency together after graduating (me from an English MA and him from an English Phd), so are good at marketing academic skills. We’re now able to charge £75-£120ph for our own teaching, so I know first-hand how valuable English degrees are. We had to work 70-100hr weeks for a couple of years to get the business running, but it was worth it, and I now have the pleasure of employing the brightest and best university postgrads (and even a few undergrads) on wages they deserve. Jx

  3. cpdesir says:

    That is quite excellent, and something that I wish we had in the US. The debt issue is huge here, and it is the only type of debt that cannot be erased. Even if you were to file for bankruptcy, you would still be obligated to pay back your loans, as the government allows for the universities to garnish your paychecks. Not to mention that many of these loans have high interest rates, so this coupled with the stagnation of the job market, puts young college grads in a very difficult bind.

    The other situation; in terms of appropriately training students to utilize their English degrees is another major problem. There are a lot of public schools in New York state that no longer teach grammar, and an astounding number of students going into college in New York do not even have the appropriate literacy credentials. From my personal experience, having a Masters Degree in English, I often found that in the job market, I was unable to compete with people with more experience, and even when my literacy skills were noticed on the job; it made to little to no difference in how I was compensated.

    Personally I have a high regard for literature and writing, but I feel strongly that in the United States, higher education is big business, and does not do enough to adequately prepare people for what they will need in the world; and with the enormous financial strain that it imposes on them, I feel this is not acceptable.

    • Jade says:

      The education system is really being shaken-up over here currently. The government recently tried to make Arts and Humanities subjects less important, if they were to be taught at all, which has resulted in a massive backlash (luckily – can you imagine the effect on society if Art, Drama, Music, Dance, History etc were no longer taught in schools?!). I’ve also noticed a lot of newspaper/ magazine articles suggesting that we are or should be moving towards the US university system, and I’m sure there are some benefits to this, but I can’t help but feel that education should be treated as an ethical issue, rather than as a business. Jx

  4. cpdesir says:

    I agree completely, and honestly I think the US system is terrible. Education should never be about economics.

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