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Letter To A Graduate

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Dear College Graduate – Congratulations on your brand spanking new diploma! No matter where you go or what you do you will always have this accomplishment. You can never become a lapsed graduate or have your degree expire. There are few things like that in life so by all means bask a bit. No doubt you’ve heard a few rumblings about the job market and your prospects of doing better than your parents. Some speaker at your graduation (or older relative at your party) thought himself or herself insightful and wise to depress you with their opinion. You may have taken loans that have a looming repayment date. The thought of which may waken you in the middle of the night, the young adult version of a monster under the bed. This would be a good time to remember that with any luck, life is long and you’re going to be just fine. But there are some harsh realities that must be faced.

Uncle Don is right; the job market is different for you than it was for him. When he (and Aunt Joyce) graduated college, sometime during the heyday of network television and the invention of the answering machine (look it up) there was such a thing as “entry-level” jobs. A person could join a firm (that’s what companies were called then) at the bottom and work their way up. These jobs were plentiful as back then people did the work of machines. A mailroom in a large firm had to be staffed as emails and texts were sent in paper form and had to be sorted and delivered by people. Receptionists and switchboard operators did the work of automated phone trees. And secretaries did just about everything. In the finance world clerks and administrative assistants (which meant entry-level administrator before it became a euphemism for secretary) were an integral part of the pre-technology workplace. Back then Don and Joyce would have sent letters to dozens of firms and answered ads to get an interview with personnel (aka H.R.) During that appointment they would most likely be given aptitude tests and then placed within the organization according to their strengths. Once placed Don and Joyce would learn the ropes, distinguish themselves, serve their time and move on up or even out.

While technology is a wonderful thing, as is progress in general, and the new(ish) field has created jobs, it has also diminished an entire classification of jobs. Of course this phenomenon isn’t entirely new. Don and Joyce may remember their ancestors starting out as “office boys” or runners. There was a time when department stores (which ruled the retail world) were staffed with; counter help, salespeople, cashiers, wrappers (items went home wrapped in brown paper and string not in bags), elevator operators, restroom attendants, doormen, models, dressers, dressing room assistants…You get the idea. Department stores themselves are practically a relic from the past, let alone the diversity of employment opportunities. So yes, with each generation there seems to be a dramatic change in the employment tableau. But you and your classmates are also facing much more competition for the sparse opportunities. Many many more people go to and graduate from college today. Many more people borrow substantial amounts of money to do so. Don and Joyce knew little about that. Their friends went to schools they could afford. They might have worked their way through school, went on scholarship or went to state schools that were highly subsidized.

So great news, right?! Don was right to rain on your parade! Well not exactly. Challenging isn’t the same as hopeless. Tenacity is your best friend right now, that and humility and hard work. Be willing to do anything (that’s legal) and work like a dog. Put your head down and get it done. Knock on every door; don’t wait for anyone to do anything for you. You need to be your own manager and press agent. Style yourself and your profile to be attractive to an employer. Prove why you’re an asset, not why you deserve a job. Let go of any notion of a dream job, and embrace the concept of a job. Believe in destiny and really hard work and let go of fantasy. And once you get that job, and you will, treat it and others with respect. Go get ’em.

Signed,
F.O.D. (Friend of Don)

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Posted by on June 26, 2013 in Childhood, Education

 

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College Cost Crusade

Private education is expensive. It always has been and probably always will be. What is less static is our nation’s relationship and reliance on credit. A couple of generations ago, earning a private college acceptance letter was not necessarily a golden ticket. Resources were gathered and if loans were taken they were most likely to cover gaps not to foot the bill. Those who could not gather the funds chose public universities instead.

Our national orientation towards credit and consumption has changed dramatically over the decades. “Affordability” has more to do with credit limits then bank accounts. It is easy to see how this philosophy migrates into the higher education arena. There is no other large purchase we make that maintains its value. Cars depreciate the moment you drive off the lot. Houses, well we’ve seen what can happen with housing. Perhaps impressionist (or Andy Warhol) pieces increase in value, but the insurance will kill you. Even diamonds and gold can fluctuate in value. But education is permanent. Add to that how sentimental people get around college (Hail to thee my alma mater) and about their children; and you’ve got yourself a low-sugar shopping experience.

There are people walking around with far more student debt than they can manage. No one will dispute that. Looking to private colleges to lower their costs, makes for great headlines but misses the point. The issue is actually not the cost of the private education; it’s the affordability. If the college chooses to charge a gazillion dollars a credit and there are people who can pay that amount, there’s no problem. The problem is with debt not cost. It’s time to take a good long hard look at the creditors and set limits. Grown people (with jobs!) have limits on how much they can borrow, children should as well.

We need to force the issue of educated consumerism. Community colleges and public colleges and universities are still quite reasonably priced (in the grand scheme of things.) Forgiving debt is not sustainable and ignores the real issue. Higher education is no different than any other purchase. The key is to find the most suitable choice within one’s budget.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2012 in Education

 

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Educated Consumers

The White House announced a new program (last year) to ease student debt.  The plan (to start in 2012) would allow graduates to pay 10% of their discretionary income for 20 years.  Any remaining student debt would be “forgiven.”

The amount and proliferation of student debt has grown to ridiculous proportion.  But why in the world should we address this after the fact?  Why are students incurring debt that might have to be forgiven in 20 years?  Either they accrued too much debt, or they accrued too much debt for their chosen profession.  I suggest educating the consumer is a much more effective solution than debt forgiveness.  Like the mortgage crisis, many are buying a product incompatible with their means and needs.

Imagine how easy it is to get caught up in the college selection frenzy at 16 or 17.  It is often also difficult for adolescents to consider shades of gray in decision making.  There will always be more than one way for them to accomplish their educational goals.  If I may, I’d like to offer a little food for thought:

  • Transfer, transfer, transfer.  Two years in a community college (particularly one with a reciprocal agreement with a prestigious university in the area) will save almost 50% in costs.  The degree from the 4 year school (attended for the last 2 years of study) will be exactly the same as the one given to 4 year students.
  • Stick to your own kind.  Do not attend state schools in other states.  State colleges and universities can be wonderful.  They can also be as expensive as a private school for out of state residents.
  • Live at home.  I’m not interested in hearing about the missed social experiences of dormitory life.  That’s not the goal of education.  If money is an issue, would you rather the person living in their childhood room, a college student or a 30 year old trying to pay off a student loan?
  • Consider your major.  I know it’s hard to think ahead as a teenager.  But teens can be savvy consumers.  What kind of degree is worth the associated cost?  A B.F.A. for a total of $40K might be a better choice (for some) than a B.F.A. for $200K.  Better yet, a B.A. for $40K with an Arts major, may be the best investment.
  • Know what you’re buying.  Does the college/university have a robust alumni network or career services?  How is their reputation in your chosen major?  What leadership or research opportunities are available at the school?

Forgiving debt is not sustainable and does nothing to ensure that people are getting the best education they can afford.  The skyrocketing cost of higher education aside, student debt exists in the same realm as consumer or housing debt.  I’m not suggesting a cash only society, but debt should always be incurred thoughtfully and judiciously.  During a time of economic uncertainty and high unemployment, when the next generation is not guaranteed a better standard of living than the one before them, attention must be paid.

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2011 in Education

 

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