The Hallowed Halls of Ivy and the American Crisis

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During my down time at work today, I stumbled across a CNN article about a surge in the student loan rates. According to the article, on July 1st interest rates on student subsidized loans are set to double to 6.8%. If you want, you can read more about it here: http://money.cnn.com/2013/05/28/pf/college/student-loan-rates/

This article got me thinking about the education ideology in the United States and how it’s affecting the American future. The question that started this train of thought: Is it worth attending an Ivy League school? I believe that much of the education you receive as an undergraduate can be found at the same level at schools that are not necessarily Ivy League. Going off my own experiences, I remember being told in my Chemistry recitations by tutors and professors how the Chemistry curriculum is comparable – if not more challenging – than that of schools such as Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. Although those may not be the top tier of the Ivy, they are still nonetheless Ivy status and you’ll be paying far more for an education in those schools than at Penn State. Although I think Penn State has excellent academics, there are definitely many other non-Ivy schools with the level, if not higher, of education as Penn State.

So if you’re paying that much more for an Ivy league education, are you really getting anything more than those not in Ivy? Is it actually worth it? I believe to some extent, yes; but this depends on the situation you are in. First is the name recognition. Of course everyone would LOVE to put an Ivy League school on their resume, because everyone knows the Ivy’s. One thing you are guaranteeing by attending an Ivy League school is absolutely receiving a good education; and I’m sure employers know that, so they’re are probably willing to take a chance on someone who was taught at an Ivy rather that someone who was taught at some unknown university…but still, that’s only to some extent. Call me hypocritical or not, but if I had the money (and motivation) to attend an Ivy League school I would be there in a heart beat. In the long run, name recognition is something that can only help you, not hurt you; but at the same time it still doesn’t mean that the level of education you receive is necessarily superior to that of another non-Ivy university.

I know a few people back in middle/high school who are currently attending Ivy League schools; people who weren’t (and probably still aren’t) much different than me. Does it mean that when they graduate with an undergraduate degree, they will instantly be multi-millionaires? Is it not possible for me to be at the same level, or even higher, financially and socially than they are in the future with my Penn State degree? I think it is. Let’s consider this: A friend of mine, who is also majoring in engineering (regardless of discipline) attends an Ivy League, while I attend Penn State. When we both graduate in four years with our undergraduate degree, will both of our jobs not be entry level positions? Because he was Ivy League, does he get to jump several promotions from an entry level when he first starts out? Are there specific engineering jobs that only require an Ivy League degree? I don’t think so. So it’s fair to say that if I play my cards right I can end up somewhere similar, or better, than my Ivy League friend.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying “WELL LET’S ALL ATTEND COMMUNITY COLLEGE INSTEAD!”, because now you’re getting into the quality of education. I’m saying that one can be successful without an Ivy League degree, and to the same standard; but you still need to choose your education wisely. Attending a school that doesn’t offer a very good education in your field, and lacks in recruitment opportunities is probably not going to get you very far. So my advice: Do your homework, because there are plenty of good schools out there that can take you far in life.

All that aside, I still believe that Ivy League schools have their advantage; and that comes especially in education past the undergraduate degree. When it comes to graduate school, law school, med school, or anything else past your undergraduate degree, Ivy League schools are a good route to go. I think that once you continue with your education, the jobs that you’ll be landing with that graduate degree will be looking at what school you came from. For example, a Harvard Law student vs. a Temple Law student. I think there are two main reasons for this:

1. Because in graduate school your education is more specific, as compared to undergraduate which is more general; in my opinion.

2. Nowadays, undergraduate degrees are too common among the young population.

I’m not going to go on about 1. anymore, because to me 2. is a more interesting topic. It’s obvious that the amount of students continuing their education, and going to college after high school has increased substantially over the past decades. With so many degrees floating around out there, employers now are requiring college degrees more than they have in the past. Nowadays, it’s as if you can’t do much without a college education anymore. College tuition is on a rise year after year, because the demand for a college education keeps increasing. Now you have those who can’t afford a college education calling for subsidies from the federal government; and as the government complies, colleges and universities across the nation increase their tuition to fight the subsidized loans instead of setting competitive rates. Then the students go out with these loans; some of them succeed, others waste their time and money studying useless majors, and some don’t have the motivation to plan their future after college.

Don’t take this the wrong way; if it wasn’t for government loans it would have been extremely difficult (if possible at all) for me to attend Penn State even with the in-state tuition, so I am grateful that I had this opportunity. But where do we go from here? How do we create a program that still gives opportunities for individuals to succeed with higher education, while weeding out the ones that won’t? How do we bring back competitiveness in a college education? As time goes on, the value of an undergraduate college degree is diminishing. Sooner or later, it will be as common as a high school education. When that happens society will crumble. Everyone will be overqualified for the jobs such as cashiers, clerks, store managers. Demand for a college education will trickle down to these jobs that, in the past, needed only a high school education to obtain full time.

I’m a strong believer of capitalism; I believe this country was formed on its ideas. We need people to work the lesser jobs in the market that don’t require a college degree, because without them society will fail. But even if you weren’t born wealthy, my ideal capitalistic views say that you can be more successful than what society has in store for you with hard work and motivation. I realize that is easier said than done, but possible nonetheless. However, our country has been far from a pure capitalist nation for quite some time, and we just keep drifting further and further away as the government takes over control. So what’s next: Communism? Totalitarianism? Socialism? Who knows; but regardless of what economic system you follow, the truth of the matter is that they never last. Eventually, they all transform into something else; whether better or worse. It’s the inevitable path of society and economics. So if I were you, I would be scared for what the future has in store; because whatever it is – either good or bad – it’s going to hit the majority of us hard.

Back to college loans, I think that those attending a college or university (especially those receiving aid from the federal government) need to be smarter about the plans they make in college. Way too many students are going in as “undecided” majors and spending more than 4 years in a university. Although college is the right time for you to find yourself, you can’t just go in there without a plan hoping that one unfolds for you; because by the time it does, you will have wasted a good amount of time. Go in there with a plan (however small), because then at least you’ll have something to go off of.

As for me, I’ve racked my a good amount in college loan debt; but I can tell you right now that I plan on having that all paid off before I’m 30. I lived off of Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as a broke college student for 4 years; I figured I could handle a few more.

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