Column: College in the 21st century – for money, not passion

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About a year ago, my friend and I sat beside a fountain in downtown Boston. The air boiled in June and we talked about life with only the languid candor one can muster on such a day after bougie, overpriced sandwiches we strong-armed ourselves into appreciating; they weren’t bad.

He outlined his post-undergraduate plans like such: he was going to stay in the city and go to grad school for an MBA, hopefully recouping the monstrous private college debt he amassed over six years with a good paying managerial job. He didn’t want to think about how much he owed, and he cursed the downright immoral cost of higher education.

And I agreed that on private and state levels alike, college and the gaggle of self-interested trustees are disgustingly expensive, and getting worse. But I also told him nobody’s holding a gun to your head to stay in Boston and pump BU’s coffers; there are cheaper options.

Whether you want to admit it or not, college is a purely financial investment, not the vital bastion of mystical intellectual exploration or a Neverland Ranch of young adulthood every university advertises itself as.

You are paying money to a business so (presumably more than 60 percent of you can gain credentials to pay off a debt). Students should ask themselves this when considering majors and plausible post-academic jobs: will your output be greater than your input so you can spend adulthood comfortably?

But what a ridiculous expectation, to assume at 18 years old, every student will have an academic-vocational plan and comprehend its full-scale, long-term implications. Sometimes people don’t realize until the end of their college careers their pursued path sucks and they can’t orchestrate a life around it in good conscience. I don’t think those people are stupid or wrong, but it’s a hard price to pay, and now they have to gamble with their next major for however many more years, should they stick around.

Of course you could just be born privileged and rich and have your parents foot the bill for as long as it takes for you to figure it out. That’s really the only solution. I voted for Bernie too, and he’s not going to be president, and even though you conceptually agree with him anyway, part of you is praying “free public college” will retroactively apply to your student loans, and it won’t. If college isn’t a sea of debtors, it’s an oligarchic morass.

What this means is when you go to college, you probably shouldn’t pursue things you can’t afford to not make money on, unless you’re rich. Quite frankly, getting a degree in something more job-ready (but nevertheless soul-sucking) from a cheaper school is a better means to chasing your passions than going to an expensive private university for the inherently non-lucrative venture itself.

And, like in the case of our beloved UConn, public school doesn’t equate to cheap; some people will still assuredly require loans.

Personal example: I dreamt of going to Berklee College of Music when I was 18, obtaining a degree in either jazz performance or music production and practicing my craft all day, every day. I’m so glad I didn’t go, in retrospect. I would easily have six figures of debt for a degree that has no guarantee of an iota of return, and I did plenty without it anyway; booking my own shows, practicing, writing and making good friends.

Maybe I missed the professional help along the way, but I genuinely don’t care; there are so many online resources and books to learn from you can improve independently and without chaining yourself to Sallie Mae. You have to be strategic about pursuing your dreams, not just trained well.

As time endures, higher education is probably not going to cease costing a criminal amount of money. However, it is your responsibility to make practical choices about the paths you walk down and which places best take you to it.

But if you don’t realize this soon, I wish your criminally deluded asses well in the decades-long pursuit of getting up to speed after setting yourselves behind the curve before you could even start.


Stephen Friedland is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at stephen.friedland@uconn.edu.