Dropping out may be the smartest decision

Dropping out may be the smartest decision

DeForest Dalbec

Whether or not you will drop out is a coin toss—about half of NMU students drop out. The graduation rates here aren’t outside the norm for a “four-year” institution (which is a bit of a joke, as only about one-third of students graduate from here in four years). There may be nothing here for you; I beg you to ask yourself, what brought you here? You, or someone you know, is wasting valuable money and time.

I look around and see young people spending $400 per credit with glazed-over eyes and notebooks filled dispassionately with precisely what the professor has written on the board, if even that. Quite frankly, I’m the same way. There are a plethora of topics offered at this university, which would see no business if they weren’t sold along with some greater package. We make jokes about the type of “colorful” courses which we may qualify into our degrees.

Are you here to signal to employers? To better your occupational future? If this is the case, then look at a technical degree. Over the course of 30 years, the wage gap between an undergraduate and a technical school graduate is negligible—roughly $90,000 in 30 years. Then consider that you would be in the workforce at least two additional years, for an average of $42,000 per year. In 30 years of working, the undergraduate is only $6,000 up on the trade school graduate, and this isn’t accounting for earlier investments, fewer college loans, increasing wages, etc.

A go-to conversation I have with educators, students and employers is in regard to what sort of training an undergraduate degree shows them. In every single conversation the opinion seems to be that, in almost any occupation, an employee could be properly trained in a matter of months, degree or not. This opinion is held so ubiquitously that it begs a conspiracy. How could the vast majority of people I talk to share this belief, yet still a diploma holds sway? How could this system, which almost everyone I talk to agrees is a horrible signal to employers, still exist? Who or what is holding this up?

Compare universities to apprenticeships. Even the worst case scenario where you get paid nothing, even if it lasted for a four-year span, would still would be a better deal than what universities have to offer. Students would be more mobile, find it easier to explore a wide variety of fields, and unless employers are charging for training, there are no loans involved.

The current legality of working for training is strange; it isn’t legal unless there is an “immediate advantage.” Think about this: why then is it legal for a third party like a university to train you for employers and charge you? Again, I’m fighting off my conspiracy detectors. The government restrictively legislates that employees can’t sign contracts to gain knowledge and training in lieu of money, but then incentivize and therefore inflate the value of higher education with grants and scholarships.

Consider the “liberal arts education” then. We know that to the 85 percent of college students who are between the ages of 18 and 24, it is sold as an “adventure.” It’s not just training for work, but also a place to explore yourself and the wide variety of voices and activities the institution has to offer. Part of this is engaging in a diverse environment. Examine, then, the homogeneity of this market, and here I don’t mean race, gender or any other identity group. I mean age—there is no major market that is this homogenous. This homogeneity does not happen in an unprotected market, and is quite frankly unhealthy.

We again talk of diversity being important from an ethnic, gender or religious perspective, but for some reason, the university seems uninterested in advertising to the huge market of intellectually curious adults. Marquette, from my experience, is full of these types of people, and to NMU’s credit, the older crowd does enrich our courses much more than other universities.

Thanks to the “liberal arts ideal” of being a well-rounded individual with interests broad and deep, only maybe a third of your credits are in your major. Have the people who set this system up ever met an 18-year-old? They’re much more likely to be interested in pursuing a degree to give them career opportunity so they can make money and pursue their own interests, not waste time in topics they don’t care about.

I’m sure an honestly interested individual could get straight A’s in the 32 course credits in economics, and I have half a mind to try, but that would leave you 88 credits short of graduating with a degree. Heck, take every economics, philosophy and environmental science course offered, ace them all, and you still wouldn’t be worth a degree in this system.

The great problem is that proscribing this Liberal Ideal with 120 credits aids precisely those who don’t need it and hurts those who don’t want it. The autodidacts who already are reading outside their profession will continue to do so anyway. The individuals who aren’t interested in exploring Nietzsche, or Rembrandt or the History of Rock n’ Roll, or whatever “enriching” experience the university accepts as part of 120 credits, will sit in class with eyes glazed over, waiting for it all to be over.

If you identify with this, drop out of school. Do not pursue your degree. If you feel now is the time to explore the world in the liberal tradition, take a course or two which are legitimately engaging and interesting to you. You still have full access to all the professors sitting lonely in their offices, the campus clubs and organizations, and the rich library as a part-time student. Heck, be a part time student for the rest of your life!

If you’re the student who is looking for 32 credits, go to trade school. The gap between trade school and undergraduate school is closing sharply. Come back some other time part time if you find yourself at 35 years old interested in Feminist Dance. Or don’t.

In the words of the late great philosopher Frank Zappa, “If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want to get educated, go to the library.” $120,000 in four years is a bit expensive for sex.