Saturday, October 1, 2011


I recently I went back to college to take a few courses that were of interest to me.  Believe it or not, a friend asked me why.  His exact words were, “Beatrice Bell, you’re in your sixties so why would a woman your age go back to college?”  I chalked the question up as one being asked by a fool. Then one of my grandchildren heard about my going back to school and my grandchild told me that it was the dumbest thing that I’ve ever done.  Passionately, he tried to convince me how pointless it was to go to college at any age. 
He cited the statistic that the United States’ unemployment rate was 9.1%.   He said that companies are laying off workers at an alarming rate.  He further pointed out that the 401 retirement accounts of many workers have taken a serious beating to the point that people are wondering if they’ll be able to retire at all.  He rambled on about how instead of senior citizens having a nest egg in their golden years, they’re ending up with egg on their faces.  (Ain’t he precious?)  It was at this point I wanted to tell him to get out of my face and sit down. 
That’s when he hit me with the bombshell.  “Grandma,” he said, “why should I waste time and money going to school when there are no jobs out there.”  I finally got it.  Mr. Know-it-all had been working up the nerve to tell me that he wasn’t going to college, and his argument was that not only would he and his parents spend thousands of dollars on a “worthless” diploma, but he could be saddled with well over $40,000 in debt and no job to pay it off.  “Have you ever thought about that,” he asked smugly?
I put on my best grandmother face and sweetly explained to him that a college education never guaranteed anybody a good job.  “It does, however, increase the likelihood of employment,” I told him.  “It gives you options for your future and makes you an appealing candidate for a job.” 
I reminded him that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a person with a Bachelor degree generally earns $51,000 a year or almost double the $27,915 a year that he could earn with a high school diploma. As for the astronomical cost of school, everybody doesn’t have go to an Ivy League school or even one of the Big Ten colleges.  I reminded the boy that in the city where we lived, there were fourteen—count ‘em—fourteen community colleges to choose from.
As for the cost of going to college, we did a Google search together and found enough scholarships, grants, and contests to make your head swim.  “But I don’t qualify for any of those!” he complained.  “My grades aren’t that good.”
I told him that he might not have a perfect grade point average but he still might qualify.  “Oh, and miracles of miracles” I said, “First you have to actually apply for a scholarship or grant.  If your grades are at the bottom of the class, that’s a definite problem, so study.”   Actually, I knew that the boy would have to be pushed to do that as well as write an essay to apply for grants or scholarships because he’s kind of lazy.  I read that a lot of free money is not awarded because the students are too lazy to write an essay.  I had to explain to him that, yes, even in the computer age, employers expect you to be able to string enough sentences together to form a cohesive thought.
I went on to enlighten him on the fact that a person didn’t have to get a four-year degree.  Even an associate’s degree could open up more opportunities, and having a plan for the future could help a lot.  Attending college just to have the experience of a 4-year party binge is not the object.  Knowing what fields are losing jobs and avoiding those might work.  Also it would be wise to aim for a degree in fields that are gaining jobs.
A blog entitled “Why College” written by Terrell Halaska and Kristin Conklin, who are partners of HCM Strategies, a Washington, DC public policy advocacy consulting firm, notes that in 2009 and 2010, an average of 20,000 jobs a month have been added in the health field.
So why college?  The answer is more options, additional knowledge and a broader future. I looked at my grandchild and reminded him that life is ever evolving and when an opportunity rolled around, he wouldn’t be able to seize the opportunity if he hadn’t prepared for it. Who knows what new jobs might come along, but would he be ready for them?  Besides, for him, college is two years away and he will be going. 
With that I gave my last piece of advice, “Get your behind in your room and study!”  And he could muse on that for the next two years!

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