College and the American Dream

I am not one of these the world is ending soon conspiracy types. However I think the American dream is just that a dream and like most dreams you cannot relive it or reclaim it once it’s over. Oh, you ever have a sexy dream that leaves you wanting more upon awakening? Hell you even go back to sleep and try to make your mind pick up where it left off but it almost never happens.

Well the American idea of going to college, getting a “good” job, a house, a spouse and a few kids and living happily after, for most Americans is a dream. Oh we start em young pounding into their heads that you must have a college degree in order to make it. Yet the reality is that for all the young adults who register in the nation’s colleges and universities at best only 30% of them will graduate with a 4 year degree and even that takes longer than 4 years for most students.

Don’t get me wrong, even in this recession we are seeing that the college educated are faring better than those without degrees but at what cost? Once upon a time in this country we produced things, folks knew how to do tasks that we all but hire others to do and even then we sometimes can’t find the help to do those so called menial tasks. Yet in almost 7 years of homeownership I have come to value the men and women in the trades and wonder why we are not encouraging our youth to consider jobs like plumber, electrician, carpenter, etc. If you have ever needed one of these types of folks you know that they stay busy and in many cases earn far more than the average college educated person.

The thing is for every person who goes to college and graduates and becomes financially secure there are probably a good 10 other college graduates who are struggling to survive under the weight of loan debt. College is expensive, gone are the days a kid could work all summer and pay a portion of the tuition. Unless a kid is slanging drugs, not too many kids are going to be earning any meaningful amount to pay towards their schooling. I have a kid in college and even with grants and scholarships, it’s still pricey and for the truly working class family hard to achieve.

Then there is the fact that as someone who completed their undergraduate and graduate education a number of years ago, it seems we now live in a world where even that is not good enough. The HR folks want to see that you are steady learning, adding continuing education, certifications, etc…when the fuck does it end?

If you are like me and a member of the sandwich generation, it starts to feel a tad suffocating with your own loan obligations, a kid in college and now an aging parent in my house. I am realizing that all the things I thought were part of the dream don’t really exist. Instead I strive to live in the moment, find joy and try not to think that I will probably have my social security checks garnished to pay back my student loans. So I will live in the shitty old folk’s home praying that I don’t have to resort to Meow Mix to keep my belly full. And why? Because I bought the dream that college was a necessity and would open the doors to good things when the truth is the good stuff is already there.

Perhaps as a society if we valued learning for the sake of learning and not just as a means to an ends we would all be better off. If we understood that all the degrees in the world mean nothing if it’s below zero and your furnace dies and you need a repair guy but have to wait 8 hours because you can’t handle a simple fix. If we valued all workers and what they bring to the table we would have greater balance in our lives and stop searching for a dream that will never come back again.  Better yet we would understand there are many paths to economic freedom and happiness without making folks believe their lives will magically be transformed by a fancy sheet of paper.

I feel I should add this post was inspired by several conversations I have had in the past day with different folks online and offline about the value of college.