By HANK WIESNER
”A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.” –Theodore Roosevelt
Consider this year’s high school graduates – and the ones behind them to graduate in future years – as gamblers.
New high school graduates headed off to college – or headed no further than his or her bedroom to absorb courses virtually A.C. (after COVID) – are gambling a lot.
In a lot of ways, grads are playing “You Bet Your Life.”
The grads are betting time, money and intellect that what they learn in college will provide a comfortable, affluent life – the kind envisioned in movies or dream-catcher slick magazines – for them, their spouses or significant others, and their children.
The grads are betting the national and world economy will allow them the opportunity to find and hold a job they value, grow wealth for themselves and their children, and let them somehow better the world for having passed this way.
The goal of an education should be the transmission of civilization – to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.
Will the gamble pay off? Will Lady Luck smile on them?
This year’s high school graduates have taken the first step toward finding out.
These youngsters are about to test the truth of the old saying: “Hard work and luck are related. The harder you work the luckier you are.”
They are coming into a fog of uncertainties, these high school graduates of 2021. The sad part is that the fog shows no sign of lifting anytime soon.
Few things are as they once were, but some things are unchanging.
As soon as students set foot onto a campus – or in virtual cases, sets eyeball to it – they will face problems that have plagued college students for years.
Today’s youngsters are gambling that they can overcome a murderer’s row of problems – beyond Covid, of course – that may include, but are not limited to the following:
Social anxiety, general anxiety, test anxiety, or panic attacks.
Family expectations or problems.
Depression, lack of energy or motivation, hopelessness, being overwhelmed, low self-esteem, homesickness, loneliness.
Relationship difficulties (emotional and physical aspects alike).
Time management, debt, spreading themselves too thin, over-partying, lousy diet (the Freshman 15 is real, folks).
Choosing a major. Although college makes a student declare a major by about age 20, who among us is doing now what we thought we’d be doing at that age? It’s said the average person reinvents himself 10 times or more during his lifetime. The final result may bear no resemblance to the youngster who had to choose a major before they turned 21.
One problem this year’s grads don’t face: the military draft, and the very real possibility of a senior trip to Vietnam.
Now comes another gamble: Spending the money to finance a college education – or borrowing it to spend – is betting on the future. Having obligated himself or herself for perhaps six figures of repayment, what are the chances of getting a good enough job to repay that debt, and still build a comfortable life, and retirement?
The money to be repaid can leave a graduate under crushing bills for a good part of his or her working life if the grad’s plans don’t work out.
The cost of getting a college education seems to rise every year. The money that bought an education at a top-drawer college or university 15 years ago now makes only a down payment on schooling at an average facility.
One of the casualties of those rising college costs is the ability to work one’s way through college. Perhaps it’s hard for these young graduates to believe, but once upon a time a full-time student could work-study enough at the same time to pay his or her bills.
Has the increasing number of people going to college diluted the quality of the college education they all seek? Has the income bonus for earning a college diploma shrunk as the price tag for obtaining it rises?
Have colleges broadened the base but lowered the height –made a college degree accessible to more people than ever before, but diluted its value?
From time to time stories surface about the college graduate who can barely write his or her name; the student who earned a letter but still couldn’t write one.
To some, despite the money spent acquiring a college diploma, English remains what it has always been – a foreign language.
Some students can just barely say the name of the letter they earned in athletics at the college. That problem doesn’t stop many of them from earning more money in a year than most of us will earn in a lifetime or two.
Their gamble has paid off. Is it fair? Is it just? Those are thoughts for another time.
Those who manage to finish four years – or more – of college face an uncertain job market. At one time a college diploma gave the holder a good chance of working in the area of his degree, and being able to stay with one company and grow as it grew.
Now, some college graduates count themselves lucky to find jobs at all, much less hold them, after they graduate.
Covid-19 has decimated the marketplace, killing or grievously wounding hundreds of thousands, shuttering businesses across the spectrum, and throwing millions out of work.
Of course, there is also the temptation to stay out of work when someone could return, thanks to extra-generous stimulus checks that reward people for not working,
In a nutshell, the job market is vague whether you’re trying to enter it with a degree or dropping out of school or college to find work.
Although a high school education is a good start nowadays, it’s not near enough. Although not everyone is college material, there are, however, other ways of education to gain the skills to sell to an employer – which is just another definition of a job – for a comfortable income.
Without some college or further education of some kind – military, trade school, apprenticeship, whatever – the employment market is worse than vague. It’s bleak.
Trade schools, technical schools, vocational schools – whatever you want to call them – turn out quality electricians, carpenters, plumbers, heating-air conditioner repair people, welders, electronics repair folks, or long-haul truckers who can expect to do well financially – perhaps better than many college grads – if they can find employers who need them and can afford to keep them.
After all, when your computer crashes, or your home air conditioning dies in August, or you’ve got to get 40 tons of steel to the other side of the country, who ya gonna call – a qualified person who never set foot on a college campus, or a Shakespeare scholar with a PhD (Piled High and Deep)?
With vocational education degree-holders, sometimes business for self becomes a real possibility. But those who work for themselves may find that not everyone is cut out to be their own boss, nor every boss cut out to be his own employee.
Talk to the college-bound high school graduate of your choice. You’ll find more talk of marketable skills than literature, more worry about access to the job markets of the future than the cultures of the past.
Many will seek a salable skill instead of learning to do what pleases them.
Perhaps in 2021, the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake has become a luxury instead of a privilege.