Was The Tassel Worth the Hassle?
Post two. Boom. This one will kind of tie into my “About Me” blog post one, but then again, won’t every post? As a college educated business owner, I often get asked my opinion about college, and whether I think continuing education is a good idea or not. The short answer is that I think it did benefit me in some ways, but the long answer is to follow here. Let me also say that, I believe that society went through several different ideologies of college. The first of those being that everyone needs to go to college to get any sort of a decent career and make a manageable salary for your family, the second was a big push that college was not for everyone and starting a job to “climb the ladder” was a comparable opportunity. The final one was more of a corporate stand point, where this idea came about to go to college to be able to not only get a “better” job, but to make more money and pay off debts… debts that usually came from going to college… but we don’t have to go there. I don’t truly believe there is a right or wrong answer for any one person, but I do think there is a right and wrong way to pursue and complete college if you decide to enroll.
Student enrollment from high school to college in 2015 was close to 70%, which is up significantly from the 40-50% in the 1970’s. Parents saw that their child going to college was more of a financial possibility as time went on, and junior colleges became a more popular option as well. If you Google a large college acceptance rate, you will get an exact percentage, however if you Google a local junior college you get a page of how to immediately get admitted. Basically, if you apply, you will get in. When being accepted to a college becomes this easy, of course, the enrollment rates will shoot up dramatically. As someone who attended a junior college, Taft College to be exact, I highly recommend going to a JC if you’re unsure about what you want to do with your future. This route is much cheaper than a traditional four year university, and can allow someone to test the waters of a major, or explore different opportunities without huge price tag. Keep in mind, for years before, these 18 year old kids are baby stepped through every avenue of life from home, to work (if they even do that), to school. Teachers are kind and nurturing, parents are a failsafe, and the tides of the millennial generation give you a golden star for participation, even if you didn’t quite succeed. With this mindset, even 18 year old Nik didn’t know what he wanted (and remember, I thought I knew it all). I spent two, very developmentally beneficial years at Taft College taking classes from Religious Studies (just to argue with my peers) to higher level science classes to test the waters of a pre-pre-med major. All the while, I worked and got to experience life firsthand, and taking some of these lessons to school where I would eventually settle on a major, and undoubtedly change it. This method led me to the successful career path that eventually took off for me; I had explored and found my niche, if you will. I was thriving in this experimental, but not insanely expensive environment, though I have seen and even befriended the tell-tale, failure to launch, Van Wilders and Tommy Boys of my generation as well.
My 10 year class reunion for my 2009 graduating high school class will be next year, and I still have friends attending a junior college. They go to a couple classes every semester, usually enough to stay “full time” to receive financial aid, and change their “major” every year. This method is obviously extremely time consuming and costly for someone that is still finding themselves. It would be much cheaper and more effective to sample a few different jobs as an intern or a lower level position, and see if you even like that avenue of work prior to investing time and resources into something you could end up hating. I’ve heard of people going through Nursing School, passing all of the classes, racing to the NCLEX and getting licensed, and realizing within a few weeks that they hate patients. This is absolutely crazy to me. I think these are the people that were told growing up that they had to go to college to make a meaningful wage and support their family, which obviously is not the case all the time. The idea of a degree that has no meaning, or a degree that isn’t hiring in your field would also be a good indication that you probably shouldn’t pursue that field if you’re looking for all the riches in the world. Basically what I’m saying is, have a plan and a goal with college, it shouldn’t be a filler of time and money for the simple fact of you have nothing else to do. Even having a plan to “have a plan” is a plan in and of itself. Did you follow along with that? Acknowledging the fact that you don’t know what you want to do, but have some sort of direction by the end of the year is A PLAN. Start there. The rest will follow.
The second big trend, as I mentioned above, was to tell all the newly graduated 18 year olds that college was not for everyone. I felt like I could pick out early on who the successful and unsuccessful population would be in this group. The people who became mechanics and firemen right out of high school were doing some sort of training their Junior and Senior years, or at least planning for what vocational program they’d be taking post-graduation. I can’t even start to tell you how many people I went to school with who “went into the oil fields” and that was their end game; they thought they would just start and end careers there (some obviously did make it, and congrats to those ones on their hard work, but those are the exceptions, not the rules). These people could have been told that college was out of reach because their parents/families saw the costs associated with some colleges and got spooked, or it could be the simple fact that some students were just not cut out for continuing education. The fact of the matter is, the world could not run if everyone was college educated. The world needs mechanics, plumbers, police officers, and assistants of all fields that do not require college education or even vocational training in some aspects. I know several owners of a mechanic shops, plumbing businesses, and even mortuaries that make more money than I do, at a comparable age. They started their hustle as soon as they got out of high school, and have been building a business for 10 or more years now. These are extremely respectable people and companies with ZERO college education. This of course accounts for the rise in people attending more trade schools or obtaining training at a specific job in exchange for an X year employment contract with specific businesses, and I think that’s how any schooling should be looked at; preparation for your career, not a waste of time, money, and cognitive function. I think this set a more realistic tone for students because college truly is not for everyone. Remember that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college and are worth a combined $160 billion. I was a big fan of this new ideology when it was outwardly spoken, because not going to college doesn’t make you a failure by any means, and I felt like my generation had such a focus on college, that we forgot what the schooling was for at times. The vocational college outlook really aligned with many of the population, because it was an 18-24 month program (give or take) to be a licensed plumber, cosmetologist, electrician, or other educated, but “blue-collared” profession. My advice: find neutral voices who will root for your success either with or without college education, and ask them (by giving your own take on the pros and cons of the continuing education) if they support your choice. Let me tell you, they should either way. This is a very personal decision, and depending on your true end goal and dedication to your plan, the path advised for each and every person will be very different.
Lastly, the most recent trend is the monetization of education, not the beneficial aspects for students anymore. Enrollment is now just a click away for local colleges, and that’s frustrating to see. There is a ‘cream of the crop’ that is admitted to UCLA, or San Diego State, but you take one look at a junior college nowadays, and you’ll be accepted as long as you have a pulse because they need the funding. College advisors are no longer the trusted mentors they once were, but advocates to prolong the process of graduation, just to squeeze out the last bit of money (and sometimes gumption) you have. The lower your family income is, the better for them. I have never seen Yale or Harvard advertising to get people to apply. With a 5%-6% acceptance rate, I don’t blame them, but they don’t need every single person that applies to get accepted, like local colleges. It’s also extremely hard to listen to a recruiter from one of these colleges, because they sell you on the American dream of ‘the perfect career, family life, house and marriage’, even down to the finest detail, but they aren’t helping these AA graduates get a job, or even advising them early on that their major may not be a trending field in the coming years, though we all know the information is just a few clicks away. Their ideal college attendee is someone that changes their mind every year, and continues to take endless classes while never really graduating. Let me reiterate, I don’t have a problem with changing your mind or going to college, but I have a problem with them selling a faulty dream and someone spending time and resources on faulty facts.
This has always been a weird topic for me because I distinctly remember looking up the average salary of someone with a doctorate, and making more than that salary before I finished college in my early 20’s. It was such a battle for me to attend classes, literally learning how to shake a potential client’s hand, with a 6 figure, profitable business before 21. What was more frustrating was being taught some of those business classes by someone who had never taken those powerpoint topics out into the field because they were first a student, and then a teacher with no real-life experience to even offer, but that’s neither here nor there. Now, I think I am the anomaly in this scenario because I know most college students aren’t paying for their own tuition and housing out of pocket, but nevertheless, I was dealing with a constant daily struggle of attending classes and sometimes feeling like I was throwing away money to a useless college degree, while losing money sitting in class instead of working with clients. I remember vivid conversations with Kenzie, my parents, mentors, and anyone who I could talk to about analyzing if my time and money was being properly invested in college, and not growing my business even further. It’s a hard decision to make, whether you’re making minimum wage or $100,000 a year, but I think the scale starts to shift in the other direction if people are telling you that you can make $40,000-$50,000 a year and you’re already making more than that. I mean, you wouldn’t go to college to make less money, that’s for sure. So why did I push on? What did I learn from continuing these classes? Would I do it all over again?
I can say, I am glad that I graduated. I was the first college graduate in my family, and that actually meant a lot to my family, which in turn meant a lot to me. To me, it may be just another piece of paper to hang on the wall, but to others it was a milestone for our blood line. I’ve given talks at my junior college a few times, and to high school students, and a recurring question is if college was truly worth it. Again, my overall answer is yes, because while I don’t think all of the information was useful, the fact that I was dedicated to something for 5 years, when I wasn’t required to be, and the mindset that persistence taught me was unteachable unless you’d reached the end. My most memorable business class was accounting, which I think everyone in the world should be required to take, simply for the basic skills it taught me, well before I knew I was going to own multiple businesses and have to train a bookkeeper someday. I did have some professors that really enjoyed teaching their subject, and did a remarkable job of making it fun, entertaining, and truly educational. There are still educators out there that care, and wish only to mold your mind and to make you more competent; those are, unfortunately, the teachers that you don’t truly appreciate until you’re far out of their class, and you realize that you’re utilizing skills they taught you. Some of my most frustrating classes were teachers that didn’t let my sly charm and excuses fly, and made me do the work they knew I was capable of. There’s a time when you’re truly thankful for that tough love, but it’s never when they’re threatening to fail you if you don’t buckle down. College was one of the most character building times of my life. Again, just touching on the dedication aspect to higher education, I think it’s very respectable when I have an applicant to my companies with a college degree. On the other side of that character building, I would say it can be very trying to take advice from professors who clearly aren’t qualified to be teaching their subject, or when you can tell that they are simply in it for the money, not for the higher education of young minds. All in all, I would rank my college experience highly, but I wouldn’t say that it’s always a requirement. I think testing the waters is a good idea. Take a job in the field you’re interested in, change your major, change jobs if you don’t enjoy that field, experience the world a little, but get back on track to figure out where you want your career to be in 5 years. One thing I know for sure is that time passes either way, and you don’t want to be the Van Wilder at your 10 year reunion.
Did you go to college? Graduate? What was your experience? Would you do it again the same or differently? Leave me your insight!