The Worth of College and Community

In “The College Calculation,” (New York Times Magazine, Sept. 24) writer David Leonhardt questions the worth of a four-year college education in our current economic setting. Students graduate with an unmeasured amount of knowledge gained, few — if any — job opportunities, and $20,000 in loans to pay off. Is the debt worth the education that may or may not guarantee you a higher-paying job?

Leonhardt cites a 2007 Census Bureau report that claims college graduates with bachelor’s degrees earn an average of $47,000 annually, while their dropout counterparts earn $33,000. I have trouble commenting on this sensibly, because I am a College Graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree, but in my first year out of school I made approximately $3,000. I applied to exactly 46 full- and part-time jobs before I gave up counting, and then only a few more before I gave up and enrolled at Sacramento City College. To me, the question is not whether the education guarantees you a higher-paying job; it’s whether the education guarantees you a job at all.

When I was accepted to UC Davis in 2004, I think it was partially thanks to (what I believe to be) the campus’ desire to rise into the “upper tier” of the UC system, alongside UCLA and UC Berkeley. After “increased efforts to attract prospective students,” the university accepted way more freshmen than it had room for; this didn’t hit until 2006. That fall, classrooms overflowed, an influx of bicyclists caused more funny accidents than usual, and — the craziest part — freshmen were turned away from the dorms and asked to find apartments instead. We complained about it then, but compare it to now, when UCs are accepting 2,300 fewer students per year, and I would much rather have a seat on the lecture hall steps than a rejection letter.

That said, I would also prefer a seat on the steps even if it meant paying a tuition increased by 32 percent, because of one aspect of a college education Leonhardt failed to mention: everything gained outside of a classroom. I learned how to take pride in my school and my town, how to fix my bike, how to make friends who will most likely be business connections for the rest of my life. My English B.A. might not mean anything to potential employers, but my experience at KDVS and The California Aggie (both of which I could participate in because I was a Davis student), doing real-life PR and publication work, will get me where I need to go.

So to answer Leonhardt’s and my own question, yes, it is worth it. It is worth it to be a part of a community, to learn exactly what that means, and to write your own definition of how you fit into your school, your world — just hope your definition doesn’t include the word “unemployed.”

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September 30, 2009. Tags: , , , . currents. 2 comments.