Declining by Degrees

I recently finished watching the PBS documentary Declining by Degrees: Higher Ed at Risk (it is available on Netflix streaming right now and you can also pick up a copy of the DVD from PBS). It is a little dated as it aired in 2005 so the students it documents are from the early 2000’s, but I think a lot of the issues raised in the documentary still hold true today. I wanted to take a few paragraphs here to think about this given the work I do and the study I am undertaking with the UNCC writing project this summer.

There are many issues brought up in the documentary regarding higher education, but what I found myself regularly draw to were the stories of the cost. I mean this here mostly in a financial sense, but (for many students) there is also the emotional and intellectual strain that comes with trying to obtain more than a high school diploma.

Is a college education worth it? Should a student be forking over tens of thousands of dollars in loans etc just to get a degree that might help them get a higher paying job. Sure, they might get that higher paying job but then how long will it take them to pay back the loans? Is it, therefore, better to just take your diploma and make less but not be saddled with that kind of debt? Does it depend on how you define the American Dream? And, I’m not even going into the discussion of going on for Master’s (like what I have) and PhD programs (which I am still considering).

And should college just be about getting you ready for a job? What ever happened to study just for the sake of broadening your mind? Can we, however, in our current economy afford to study just because we are interested in a topic?

I’m asking a lot of questions and I may not have the answers but I felt for the girl who was accepted to NYU but couldn’t imagine saddling her parents with a ton of debt just so she could go. Instead she stayed home and attended her local community college while working so that she ends debt free after her two year degree. Some people say was that a loss for her, but if I was talking to her I’d say: good work, I wish I had known about the community college program when I was graduating from high school; it could have saved me a lot of debt and heartache!

There was also the girl who was working nights full-time while trying to go to school full-time. Yeah, been there to but did my grades suffer? Yes. Did my job performance probably suffer? A bit, but I’m sure I was less concerned with job performance than my grades.

Is a college education: two year, four year etc still worth it? What do you guys think? Can you get by without a degree? What is the best way to fund one?

Just some questions that I’m posing right now. I’d love to hear from my regular readers and any of my UNCC Writing Project Peeps on their concerns and/or thoughts.

6 thoughts on “Declining by Degrees

  1. Gosh, there is so much in this Jessie. :) So often I wish I had gone to college, had some kind of skills/craft. It has also been difficult in my position with my daughter, when talking with teachers/psychologists/doctors, to be taken seriously or listened to. I had what wasn’t a bad paying job for a high school education, at the Post Office delivering mail. My oldest received a scholarship to USC and we were able to pay the rest . . .no loans. It nearly emptied our savings, but I just didn’t want the debt for her or for us. But, that is just me. She also went to community college too and transferred. She now is planning on law school. She is working in a law office and doing much of the work a lawyer does, but doesn’t get paid for it. She’s also very smart. And has wanted to be a lawyer since she was in 6th grade. I think it will all be worth it to her. But that time out at USC was tough. My second step-dad was a millionaire ( he died and his only son got his estate) and he never went to college. He was a cattle farmer and invested his money, was always asking questions and listening to people, was humble and unassuming. One thing that my daughter and I talked about was seeing a need to prepare high schoolers more for work/life. That there would be more job specific training/ mentoring/apprenticeships. So there’s some thoughts from little ol’ me . . .:)


  2. I can always count on you, Debbie, to join the conversation!

    I think it is so hard to decide when you should be thinking: career. A high school diploma can open a lot of doors for you if you at diligent and hardworking but at some point standards of different jobs require the higher degrees. I just hate to see people age and think they are too old to go back and make the change to a new career. You are never to old and honestly it might be better for many people to have some real world before the rigors of study.


    1. You are so right, Jessie. I kind of skipped that, that most jobs require more education. I don’t think we can change that at this point. I just wish there was a way to help our young people along in life without debt being a part of it.
      Ya . . .I always join the conversation. . .but I just usually don’t know what I’m talking about. haha!


      1. I agree that there seems like there should be a way to do it without so much debt being accumulated. Like teachers. Why do you need a four year college education before you can teach say kindergarten? What if you could do more vocational training say a year or so? Just something I’ve always wondered


  3. I want to go back to school, but I think hubby feels I already went three times :) so maybe I should relax and enjoy being a stay at home person. I get to do my art, write, and am part of the poetry community here. I could teach culinary here, but they pay bites! I may think about it for next year, but for now I shall write write write, and hang out with the two of you! :)


  4. I enjoyed the three years I was at home :) it was a great gift. I am pretty sure i won’t do more formal studies. I’ve always been a self learning and I like the idea of adding more books on teaching theory to my other personal studies rather than taking on another degree path!


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