A Phi Beta Cons reader writes in response to my “What 17 Million Americans Got From a College Degree” post last week. This letter is worth reading, I believe, because I think it’s representative of the great multitude of Americans who are taught to return to college — online or otherwise — as if it’s a panacea for what ales economically.
Let us lend both our sympathies and our prayers to these men and women, for we know they are probably receiving neither from the Education Establishment:
I am one of those 17 million. I will leave my name out of this email because I hold an independent contractor position at a university where I teach twice a year. I am a Conservative and the environment is very Liberal. Not all students fit into the average profile of just finished high school at eighteen and now are ready for the college experience. My parents were middle class and had little money. I entered the labor workforce like many did in 1976. Many of us are now forty or fifty something, nontraditional types, who left low paying jobs. I was working at a law enforcement job where I was paid the large sum of twenty three thousand dollars annually. I had approximately ten years logged in that line of endeavor. The only education I had at forty-four years of age was a high school diploma. I wanted desperately to break out of this conundrum. I followed one of my successful uncle’s suggestions and started a university education.
I decided to pursue a real estate education and become a commercial developer. I searched for all colleges and universities that touted my program of choice. I narrowed the list to about five. I picked the one where professors were actually hands on practitioners. I still had the obstacle of how to afford this new skill set I was about to engage. At that time, student loans were readily available. Several of my professors stated how easy it would be to get a position as Project Manager or Developer after graduation. I applied for student loans and decided to enroll fulltime just like I would have if I had started right after high school. I did work while in school but made little. The university classes were very difficult for me as I had graduated in 1976 some twenty-six years earlier. I found out years later after graduating high school that during my Junior high school years I was among many participants in a new math experiment by educators. I was an unwilling victim of that experiment. My math skills were poor. This would haunt me most of my life. I applied myself in my new university and kept a straight “A” average even in real estate math. I made myself learn the Algebraic math and even statistics.
The following four years evoked a new learning pattern in my life. I devoured the material and all textbooks with a voracious appetite. I used my student loans for the purposes they stated including my tuition, textbooks, and living expenses. I was going to graduate and start making at least eighty thousand a year I thought. As I progressed I earned several scholarships, a few grants, and even was inducted into an Honor Society of notable mention. My graduation included a 3.95 GPA and a Bachelor of Science degree. My Liberal university counselor tried to get me to take time off to reflect on my four years. I reminded my Liberal counselor that I was forty-eight years old now and needed to start work. The employment situation was daunting because of my age. Corporations were hiring in my skill set but degreed students of late twenties and early thirties received the jobs. I had my degree and knew I could land a job now. I applied to hundreds of openings with just one rejection letter stating I was not the most experienced. The other applications were probably round filed.
One professor suggested I continue and get my Master degree. If I stayed in school at least half time enrollment my student loans would continue. I thought what have I got to lose. I could not get a job even with a B.S. degree so maybe a Graduate degree would be the best. My undergraduate degree cost me about $48,000 in student loans that included both Private Signature and Federal loans. I immediately applied to three institutions of higher learning that served my skill set in a professional vent. I was accepted into two and I picked the one that the Wall Street Journal rated high. I enrolled as a fulltime student and started the next phase of learning. My year and a half was full of new ideas and methodology for the job I wanted to pursue. I applied myself as I had in the undergrad years earning a GPA of 3.56 mostly straight “A” grades. I missed the Honor Society induction by a fraction. I was now armed with a B.S. and a Master of Science degree in real estate. My student loans would not require repayment for at least six months after graduating. My Graduate degree loans totaled about $18,000. With interest and everything I owed about $70,000. I started planning a budget that would repay my loans and pursued finding a professional job. I was now a very educated fifty year old and the only member of generations of my family to ever earn a Master’s degree. I was proud of my accomplishments.
I immediately employed help in creating a proper resume. I was not only educated but experienced in the many facets of labor type jobs that contributed to what I wanted. I researched the field of Project Management and Development and found many jobs in the D.C. area. I took what money I had and moved there. It was disheartening to learn my age was still my largest detraction. Nobody wants to hire a fifty something employee when they could get a thirty year old. I decided to get my broker’s real estate license and open my own shop. I spent about six thousand dollars to open a boutique shop in July. It was now October 2008 and the economy crashed. I could not attract anyone even with excellent advertisements. I was getting into financial difficulty. The office looked like a professional attorney’s office. I even advertised that I would hire associates with no luck. In November I had to close because I was broke.
I took a credit card loan and moved back to my hometown and support of family. One would think that I was not supposed to be an entrepreneur or that I could not handle money properly. That perception would be far from the truth. I am a very hard worker who believes in honesty and integrity. I believe that if one does not work then they should not eat. I had a good upbringing and hard working parents. I applied to hundreds of jobs with no answers. Once in a while I would get an email stating that a more experienced person was hired. I applied to many government jobs and even took their online qualification tests and surveys. I would get an email stating I did not have the right experience. I came to conclude that I was the wrong race for government positions. I then applied to many universities to teach.
Ironically, I applied to the same university where I had completed my undergraduate degree. I was eventually hired to teach when needed for about $2000 a class. I figured out the hours I spend teaching and grading papers and found I make less than minimum wage. I also earned a broker’s license and started the word of mouth campaign out of my home. I am now fifty two and make little money. The Obama economy, in my opinion, has destroyed the commercial real estate market. The field I was trained in is in a trough as far as the economic cycle and real estate cycle goes. Maybe I could get a PhD? I don’t think that would be wise at this juncture. I do not see Commercial real estate rebounding until at least the third quarter of 2011. I do not take government assistance like food stamps and welfare because I think working is how you get wealth. I am sure I will eventually get the salary I thought I would get. It will take more time and continuing education. I still owe for my entire education and have a poor credit rating due to lack of funds. I am now my own statistic. My Liberal university counselor would be proud as I am now reflecting on how I was degreed out of a job.