Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

What You Love or How Much You Can Make

Kids nowadays go to college, take out whopping student loans and hope when they graduate to get jobs that pay enough to make payments on their student loan with enough left over to eat a decent meal at IHOP.

Viva, the American Dream.

Graduate-Holding-Empty-Piggy-BankCollege student debt now exceeds $1.2 trillion and is a major drag on economic growth.

Worse than the macroeconomic effect is the impact on individual students, who on average leave college with debt of more than $30,000. The specter of ultimately paying off that debt has a corrosive effect on the thought processes of undergraduates who are expected at some point to pick a major.

Looming debt repayments force students to weigh what they love against what they can make.

An exasperated student vented on Twitter that she wasn’t as worried about the interest rate on her student loan as she was about the size of her student loan. For many students, their debt is about the same as a downpayment on a house, which is why a startling number of college graduates return home to begin adult life in the basement. It is as much a metaphor as an address.

Despite a lot of hand-wringing and outraged letters to the editor, little is being done to tackle the question of the rising cost of college. The University of Oregon just approved a 3.8 percent in-state tuition hike for the 2015-2016 school year. College officials said more revenue is needed. They are undoubtedly right, but more revenue for the university means more debt for its students.

Students aren’t happy. But they have little choice. Nailing down a college degree will give them a leg up in earning substantially more over a lifetime than their high school diploma-toting counterparts. College is a great long-term investment that is getting harder to afford in the short-term.

student-in-cap-gown-with-student-loan-ball-and-chainThe rising cost of college and consequent higher student loan debt is causing some students to rethink the value of a college education and others to search for a career path that can propel them to a good-paying job as soon as possible.

Even though young adults may not be glued to the news, they have seen plenty of stories about college grads, sometimes with PhDs, working for the minimum wage flipping hamburgers. That inevitably leads to identifying the academic discipline of the under-employed grad. If the grad majored in anything resembling the liberal arts, there is a reflexive, “Told you so.”

Of course, lots of people with liberal arts degrees succeed, and not in spite of their academic major. Many liberal arts majors spend their time in college taking a wide look at the world without diving to the bottom of the lake in one subject area. They may leave college less prepared for a specific job, but better prepared for a world of change – and the job that will be available 10 years from now.

It is sad when a student has a love for a discipline or career, but abandons it to pursue something else with a better pay-off prospect. Many motivated potential teachers, social workers and artists surrender their dream to lock down a job that pays the bills, including the student loan debt.

There is nothing wrong with weighing income potential as part of a decision on what to study. What is wrong is having a huge weight on the decision-making scale from enormous student debt loads.

american-dreamChasing a buck to pay off student loan debt is a like a dog chasing its tail. The chase may make sense at the time, but in the end its reward isn’t very satisfying.

Making a living and having a life can coexist. Many times, that requires doing what you love, not just what pays well. Regrettably, that American dream is evaporating.





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