I've been in higher education for a while now as a student. Tomorrow I'll "walk" for my Masters degree in speech language pathology. And for a while at least, I'll be done with school. In all my time in higher education, I've thought a lot about what's wrong and what's right with it.
Some of the problems that I see are that almost half the kids that start it don't finish it, some of the classes are not useful for career preparation or experience broadening, in most fields the on the job training after the needed degree is more important than the degree, there are many areas graduating people that will have a degree and no work afterwards, and some professors don't know how to teach.
The issue reviewed in most of the anti-higher education articles in the news lately is money, and how it costs too much, or is no longer worth it. The most balanced of these (and the longest) is in New York magazine's http://nymag.com/news/features/college-education-2011-5/ article titled The University Has No Clothes. Another is on ABC and titled The High Price of Higher Ed:
Honestly, it's true that higher education is expensive. For those that graduate, it is, on average, worth it by a lot. For those that don't graduate, it is... totally not worth it. So the lesson to take home is... graduate. And I have. This will be the fourth time. My first two degrees, including an Associates degree and a BA in English Literature, were definitely not worth in terms of financial returns. I was a bit angry after I finished my BA, we were having our first son, and I couldn't get a job. But I should have known that a BA in English Literature (which doesn't allow you to be an English teacher in a school) wouldn't get me a good job. My thought at the time was to become a professor of English. But there seemed to be a lot of professors of English, and not a lot of work for professors of English. And to become the great novel writer that I wanted to be, another degree wouldn't help very much. So I changed course.
I heard about Speech therapy. High pay, very high demand. In this terrible economy, I've turned down offers of $62,000, $83,000, and $73,000 per year. Why? Because it rains too much or too little there, or it's too far. I have more offers, and I'll accept one in the next couple of weeks. I've been out of school for 14 years. I've never made more than $12.00 an hour. Now I'll be making between $30 and $40 an hour full time. I have mega student loans to pay off. That's not too hard with triple the pay. Will it have been financially worth it to me? Yes.
The important thing to do when going to the University is having a good end goal in mind. Don't go because you're supposed to go. Go when you know what you're going to do. A life saving website is http://www.bls.gov/oco/ This is the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook. http://www.bls.gov/oco/ooh_index.htm
The above link is to the alphabetized Index of occupations. Scroll through it, find an interesting career and click. IT IS AWESOME!!! You'll find about nine sections of information about the interesting career, including Nature of the work, Training, Qualifications, and Advancement, Employment, Job Outlook, Projections, Earnings, Wages, Related Occupations, and Sources of Additional Information.
Even if you already have your career job, you can find out a lot of information about it. In another area of the web site, you can find specific information about how much the average employee makes in each of the 50 states, and even in hundreds of metropolitan areas.
All this appears to be a waste to the great entrepreneurs that seem able to take their ideas and create wealth. It's also less important to the great researchers at the top of academia and science that are responsible for so many life saving and technological achievements. But for everyone else, it seems that it's nice to know where the goal is before getting into school. I highly suggest it.
There was a point when I thought I wouldn't ever finish the University. I failed classes. I failed a couple of semesters. I didn't think I had the discipline to see it through to the end. In my case, having children while I was in school was a huge help. Failure was no longer an option. I had to mature, start attending class all the time, study for the tests, and start preparing and writing papers a bit earlier.
I'm still not a perfect student. I didn't do a lot of the assigned readings, and many in my class didn't either. I sometimes started papers and homework the night before. A lot of times I didn't study for the tests for more than a couple of hours. But I did what was required. And I gained a lot of knowledge that will actually be useful to me in my career. More importantly, I gained a perverse love of research... And it may not be too long before I'm a student yet again. This time for the PhD.
These last paragraphs are for all the people like me out there. The grad students aren't all type A do it all know it alls. I'd say in most of my undergrad classes about 80% of the students procrastinated as long as possible to do any school work. In my graduate level classes, about 60% of us procrastinated as long as possible before doing school work. True many of the worst offenders don't make it to grad school, or reform themselves like me to be able to get through it, but I just wanna say for anyone that's doubting themselves, YOU CAN DO IT! and IT IS WORTH IT IF YOU DO!