Degrees for Dummies: Not Everyone Should Go to College

Why Obama's student-loan bailout is a terrible idea

Fingers run in irritating tip-toes on the keyboard behind my back. To my right: Obnoxious images of strangers on Facebook are flashing across the screen. I’m caught between this and what’s on another screen: the irresistible new winter line at Urban Outfitters. I take a gander over the shoulder of the student in front of me, and I can watch a high-speed zombie pursuit in action. Yes, this is academia. College education is becoming less and less what I hoped for every semester.

However, we can’t blame technology for attention deficits anymore than we can blame frat parties for dropout rates. The fact is that not everyone is cut out for college, and with average state tuition prices going up by more than eight percent this year and the overall student loan debt toll reaching $1 trillion, maybe it’s time to begin weeding out the growing stock of bandwagon-hopping underachievers.

Recent generations of high-school grads—even those who don’t have genuine interest in furthering their education—go to college so they don’t have to get it together for at least another four years. In today’s middle class, if you decide against college, you are pretty much shunned. Sure, college can be inspiring and provide the insight needed to successfully put you on the right career path. The reality is, though, that many people don’t have the kind of work ethic to make that happen.

Now President Obama wants to bail out some of the massive student debt that has, for the first time in history, exceeded credit card debt.

Making it easier to pay off debt doesn’t seem like the best solution. Instead, our nation’s higher-education system should be less about making a profit and more about finding students with the right potential to pursue an education. In Germany, for instance, getting into college requires passing several challenging tests to prove preparedness for college curriculum. It would also help if high schools and our culture in general placed more emphasis on the importance of technical jobs and apprenticeships as other powerful nations do.

The increasing amount of disinterested students must contribute to why so many college graduates are waiting tables. It might not necessarily be all their fault—college may be becoming too easy and not preparing people enough for the reality of what goes on outside of campus.

Temple photojournalism professor Edward Trayes has taken action by keeping his curriculum so demanding that students often eventually leave the program. He’s doing them a favor, though. What’s a college degree worth if you don’t have genuine passion for what you’re studying? More professors seem to be dumbing down expectations, catering to an ever more lazy and disinterested student body and creating boatloads of underprepared grads.

“There’s no magic switch that’s going to be flipped when you graduate. If you don’t take yourself seriously, how will anyone else?” says Trayes. “You don’t just do the minimum. There are people who never had a chance to follow their dreams of education. Students need to be grateful for the privilege they have. Education is a privilege. I’m appalled when I see students coming to class in their pajamas, no notebook and no questions asked.”

Trayes isn’t alone in his frustrations. According to research from the Pew Foundation, more than half of college professors believe today’s students study less than their predecessors did.

Pew also discovered that only 55 percent of college graduates feel their education has helped them get a job. With numbers like that, it’s easy enough to draw the conclusion that many are either going into it for the wrong reasons, not passionate enough about what they went to school for, or didn’t put in the effort to get the maximum benefit.

I’m not trying to act like there’s no chance I might also graduate and find myself jobless. It’s an impending likelihood that haunts me every day. And I’m not implying that everyone with a college degree without a job right now obviously slacked off. The growing problem of unemployment is not one to be taken lightly.

I’ve been lucky enough to choose a career path that I’m certain I want to pursue despite the highly discouraging odds for failure. I feel relatively confident in my pursuits. I enjoy the challenges. It’s the students who constantly try to find loopholes to make it easier that worry me.

I hear it all too often when it’s time to schedule courses: “Oh, don’t take that class. I heard it’s super hard. I can recommend all of the easiest professors and best blow-off classes.” Some of us do actually want to graduate with more than just the bare minimum sheet of paper. The ones who don’t simply should not be in college in the first place.

“It’s bizarre to me that college is one of the few things people are willing to pay for and get nothing out of,” says Trayes.

College is what you make of it. You’re only hurting everyone if you try to fake it.