Debt and the College Debate


The Rethinking College movement really took off in late 2010 / early 2011.  We were asking ourselves, why get bogged down with college as being the only path to success?  What if there was greater success to be found by taking nontraditional paths to achieve our dreams, maybe dreams we’d had since we were kids, dreams that the “American Dream” route of good grades = college = good grades = 40-year job = wealth = comfy retirement seemed to bypass?

We put our heads together to figure it out.  Many of us have written books, started websites and blogs, been in the media, explored the nations, acquired volunteerships, internships, and jobs we are truly passionate about; many of us have taken the time to figure out what we really love and decided to study it in college on our own; we’ve found love, happiness, gainful employment, functional living spaces in the places we want to live surrounded by communities of family and friends fully of love and support.

Wherever we are, we’re on the ever-evolving path to defining what success is for ourselves at this moment, and all because we decided to take a moment to wonder whether the Way You’re Supposed to do Things is really The Only Way.

Now the Rethinking College movement has made its way into the mainstream – hooray!  However, like most spirited ideas that become mainstream, the message has devolved into a watered-down version of the original message: it’s become all about the money.

A huge part of rethinking college is about money, don’t get me wrong!  College is no cheap potatoes – and even if everyone who went to college were able to fully fund it through Pell money and scholarships, that money is still coming from somewhere – TANSTAAFL, doncha know (apparently, most of that tuition is going towards football and basketball coaches, by the way).  

Since hardly anybody our age can realistically afford to pay for college, unless we have well-off parents who offer to pay our way, we must take out loans at an exorbitant and fluctuating interest rate.  To make matters worse, unlike back when our parents graduated college, there is now absolutely no guarantee of higher-paying work – or often any work at all – if you have a degree under your belt, even though for some reason Colleges and The World both keep saying there is.  So, that leaves today’s college graduates utterly penniless, too far into the hole to ever hope to climb back out.  A great education was gained in the process, yes, and there’s a lot to be said for that accomplishment.  But with no hope of ever being able to get out of the debt it put them in, making the college choice has merited itself as a mistake.

This is all very valid information that definitely needs to be made known.  However, the main reason it frustrates me is that it is presented just as that paragraph above – many statistics, anecdotes; college being labeled as a “scam” or a “Ponzi scheme”; and the whole situation being laid out as hopeless, with no light at the end of the tunnel.  The overall message now?  “Don’t go.  You’ll just get yourself into debt and it’s a waste of time anyway.”

Aw thanks, oh wise sage!

What I want to get out into the mainstream is that rethinking college is NOT necessarily all about avoiding debt, about whether you’re going to be making minimum wage anyway, or about guaranteed career paths.  If the motivation to reconsider the traditional path begins there, that is fine; but it is not supposed to end there.

We are young and we have time, energy, and resources on our side.  Let’s work like hell, save money if we can, read books, magazines, blogs, use the internet to find open education resources, find mentors, take ourselves on field trips, research ways to acquire hands-on experience, and store up and record everything we’ve learned.

Now is the time to search.  Search for ourselves, search in our hearts for what we most long to do.  Find new experiences that affirm what path we’re on or help us discover new and unexpected paths.

We can take action to make dreams a reality, step by step.

With the empowerment we now have, we can consciously make choices – is college the right choice for me?  Or is an alternative path?  And which one?

Now is the time.  The Rethinking College movement is about taking what time, energy, and resources you have, learning what you like and don’t like, and figuring out what you want and how to make it happen.  It isn’t all about money, and it isn’t all fun and games either.  It’s not about who is further ahead, who gets what they want more, who makes the most money, why that person gets everything they want because their parents help or why I don’t because all I have the money to do is pay rent because I value shelter over a career.  It’s about rethinking and redefining.  And we’re all here to help each other figure out how to do it.