Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Is an undergraduate college degree worth it?

I haven't consistently written about my pain and suffering of obtaining my undergraduate degree while working full-time and being a wonderful husband and great parent of two. I have a short attention span most of the time and I get misdirected to other things in the middle of ongoing things and then it's just a cluster fuck of things. Before I know it, I've lost track of anything and everything I wanted to say, write, or do and I move on until I can remember them later on. If I could stay on track and compile my thoughts in one cohesive linear direction, this blog would be much longer and each day's postings would be enormously long or many or both.

With that being expressed, I have come to the conclusion that I should (will) complete my long, tenuous journey of obtaining my undegraduate degree from a well-known school. If all goes well, May 2012 will be my graduation month/year. {fingers crossed}

I'd like to start with a little pre-journey background. I didn't grow up with parents that made enough money for us to live comfortably. At times, my parents struggled to make ends meet. I shared a roughly 20' x 20' room with my brother up until I was in 10th or 11the grade which is when he moved out. There were three boys in my parents 3-bedroom house since I was in elementary school because my older four siblings were already on their own by the time I was in 3rd.

Most of my clothes, excluding underwear, came from hand-me-downs or the second-hand store (if it's still there we visited the D.A.V.- Disabled American Veteran's store in Irving, TX). The bicycle I learned to ride a bike on was my oldest sister's—yes, a girl's bike—who is fifteen years older than me. I learned to ride it at the age of five but I was unable to sit on the seat. Therefore, I had to "stand" the entire time while pedaling and the handle bars were at a height above my head where I looked like I was stretching more than I was riding a bike. Damn good thing it WAS a girl's bike!

Anyway, point is that I didn't expect to go to college. Times were tough most of my childhood and money was tight. I was (am) a smart kid but I knew my parents couldn't afford it and so I didn't ever prepare to attend or think about college. I didn't ask for brochures or any information from colleges. I conceded/expected the fact that I would work after high school and see what the future brought. Neither of my parents went to college. One or two of my siblings took a class here and there from Tarrant County Junior College (now TCC). I was not groomed for continued education.

So anyhow, I started this journey in the fall of 1989 at the ripe old age of 18. I didn't start this journey willingly. My mom told me I had to enroll in college (TCJC) in the fall after my high school graduation because they needed to keep health insurance on me and to claim me on their taxes. I didn't really have a job lined up but was actively looking while also trying to enjoy my summer of fun and freedom from no longer having to returned to "required" schooling.

I enrolled in twelve hours at TCJC for full-time status for a few semesters/years and before or on the drop date, I'd drop at least half of the classes because I was skipping them. I look bad now and regret not being more respectful of my mom's hard-earned money to pay for my classes but I was younger and dumber at the time. I looked at it as I didn't like the damn classes anyway and my mom was forcing me to take them. I particularly disliked taking the GEC classes because if it wasn't specific to what I wanted to do, like technology or whatever, I felt that classes like Human Relations and Rhetoric were total bullshit and a waste of money. I look back now and I wasted the money by not just getting a passing grade in all the classes instead of dropping them. I spent a lot of time in the game room playing fuseball, ping pong and pool. I also slept a lot in the lounge area when I should have been in class. College was not a motivator for me. It never has been and still really isn't.

I got me a full-time job making decent money (at the time it was decent). I worked 7am to 4pm and had my afternoons and evenings to just hang out, relax, and have fun. A few years of full-time work, I started taking an evening class each fall and spring semester because my company would reimburse me if I passed with a C+. I took classes I wanted to take like Pascal and C programming as well as some other techie classes. It wasn't the funnest but my wife (girlfriend at the time) was very persistent in what she thought I should do with my life. It really came down to she was slightly embarrassed around her friends and family to be dating me because I had no real college aspirations and she was going to a very expensive private college and she had goals and plans.

Longer story short, I got a job at a college and they have tuition benefits. They pay up front though unlike my previous job but they don't cover books and fees. That's okay when the tuition is like $8k-$10k for two classes, I think I'm better off paying $300 for books and fees. It still sucks but it's better than the alternative. Between work and family time, I have taken six hours a semester (FL/SP/SU) for quite a while. My work covers 18 hours and I'm not paying for more nor am I taking more than two classes a term because it's a lot for me to take on with family, work, school and personal sanity time. Focus is still hard for me because when it comes to family, fun or a 5-page paper, family first then fun rules out and then I'm pulling an all-nighter to finish the paper or study for an exam. It's not fun.

So, I've got 13 hours left. I'm taken three for the first summer term and then six in Fall 2011 and six in Spring 2012. Then finally (hopefully) graduation in May 2012 with a BBA and a minor in photography. Look at me the previous underachiever achieving a major and a minor.

Now the point of my title. I work in an MBA office and I see and process applications for our program every day. These applicants fill out their current employer and salary. All these people have already received their undergraduate degree from some institution. Many are at least 28 years of age but can range from 26 to 36 years old. If we go with those that are 30-36 and U.S. citizens, many of them have salaries that are equal to mine give or take a couple of thousand dollars.

Granted, I didn't start at what I make now but they spent minimum four years in undergraduate college and something like $60k-$80k in tuition to work at a job making the same money as I am without a completed college education. Of course, they have the education and potential to make more...blah, blah, blah...but they don't right now. Not to mention that I work for a university and I knew going in that it wasn't about the money I could make. It was about the sanity and peace of mind of not working in the crazy-ass high-pressure corporate world anymore and to get my tuition benefits for me, my wife and my kids.

My point comes down to this. Is it worth wasting four years of life (excluding the frat parties, panty raids and other extracurricular activities) and being in debt for paying the college tuition (unless your parents are rich) to obtain a job that starts out at, say, $32,000/year? Years ago I started at $26,000/yr at a previous employer working in the mail room. I progressed to a promotion in a few years making $30,000/yr which was equal to those the company was hiring straight out of college at the time. The college graduate didn't do the job any better than I did and in fact many did worse. So, who was better or worse off?

Again, society says a college education is important and for some reason people still believe that a college grad will do a better job than a high school grad. To that I say, "Bullshit." It all comes down to the capabilities of the applicant/employee...but again, the decision makers say differently. I just see that an accounting major learns theory in college and learns real life on the job. A competent non-college worker learns on the job and didn't waste time in class theory. Is one the college grad better, worth more? I think not but the higher-ups think differently. Would you trust a non-college educated real estate agent that learned on the job from a mentor and works in the actual business or a college graduate that just graduated with a major in real estate?

I guess there's an argument for both sides. I tell my kids that I will support them in whatever they want. I don't think a college degree is necessary overall but I think it is necessary for them just because of the biases that people have against non-college grads versus college grads. It isn't the end all be all but it doesn't hurt either, I guess.

Anyway, that's my random opinion of the day. You can find different opinions on whether or not a degree is worth the time and money by a Google search, as I did. In fact, I will share a couple here and here.

Oh yeah, I saw an article somewhere that said the MBA is now considered more like an undergraduate degree because everyone's got one. I think that's a remark stating that the undergraduate degree has lost its clout and the MBA is following suit. What's next, everyone needs a Ph.D.?

UPDATE 6/2/11: It's funny sometimes how when you write or talk about something that there is someone somewhere that had a similar idea but on a bigger platform. I saw an article here that has a few theories on the worth of college. It was an interesting read although I think it misses some con-college points. Still worth a read though.

1 comment:

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