It’s Not Wall Street’s Fault That You Wasted Your Time In College

Someone once observed that a “philosophy major is someone who spends a lot of time thinking, while he waits in line at the unemployment office.” It sounds a bit harsh, but it came to mind when I recently came across a picture that a young college graduate took of herself holding a sloppily written sign which read:

“I have a Master of Arts degree in women’s studies. However, the only job I can find is as a bartender at a local restaurant. I owe over $60k in student loans. I am forced to rely on food stamps and W.I.C. to support my son. Is this the American Dream I worked so hard for? I am the 99 percent.”

For those unfamiliar, “women’s studies” is basically history and sociology taught through a liberal feminist perspective, the basic thesis of which is that all the problems in the world, past, present, and future, are the fault of men.  One can expect a graduate of women’s studies to be well-versed in such arcane concepts as “standpoint theory, intersectionality, multiculturalism, transnational feminism, autoethnography,” and will have done no shortage of reading “associated with critical theory, post-structuralism, and queer theory. The field researches and critiques societal norms of gender, race, class, sexuality, and other social inequalities.”

And what exactly that qualifies someone to do with his life, I have no idea.  Like many academic pursuits, it is an entirely self-contained discipline with no practical application outside of the reality vacuum that is the modern college campus, which means the degree qualifies you to do little else other than write books on the topic (or, well, at least read them), and tend bar.

One of my friends observed that this person’s problem is that with a college degree she has made herself overqualified for many jobs.  Yeah… no.  The problem is that college has not increased her qualifications for any job, any more so than had she spent 6 years playing and becoming an expert at “World of Warcraft.”  Exactly what job did she think she was going to get?  Had she asked me ahead of time what job she could expect with a masters in women’s studies, I don’t know that I would have said “bartender” specifically, but I would have said “something involving a cash register.”

And I wish I could say that to a lot of other people who are presently “studying” subjects even more inane.  Consider some of the fatuous classes offered at these schools:

Rutgers recently introduced a class on Beyonce.  The University of Virginia offers a course on Lady Gaga.  UCLA students can take “Queer Musicology.” And if hip-hop is more your style, consider “Introduction to Turn-tableism” at Oberlin, where you will learn the basics of how to use a turn-table in your future career as a disc jockey at bar mitzvahs and parties.  I recommend watching “The Wedding Singer” before you sign up.

If you prefer television to music you’ll be happy to know that multiple schools offer classes on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which has developed into its own discipline.  You can study the Klingon language at the University of Texas, or prepare for a zombie invasion at Columbia College.  If that’s too high brow for you, you might instead consider taking “Arguing With Judge Judy” at the ultra-liberal California-Berkeley (which probably qualifies for credit in their pre-law program).  But before embarking on such a rigorous study regiment, you might want to first go to Montclair State and take “How to Watch Television,” just to get your feet under you.

Princeton offers a class on “Getting Dressed.” Dartmouth offers a class on getting cross-dressed!  Of course, once dressed you have to actually get to class, so it is recommended that the serious student take “The Art of Walking” at Centre College.  And if your ultimate destination happens to be in a tree house, you will want to combine that study with an Ivy League look at “Tree Climbing” at Cornell.

At Temple you can learn about UFOs in American Society, but if you’re looking for a closer encounter of a different kind, go to Rochester and try “Alien Sex.” If that’s too weird for you, just look at “Dirty Pictures” at URI.  Or go to “Sex Week” at Yale, where you can hear lectures from visiting porn scholars / actresses, watch hours of films, and try out new products.

Hey if watching porn gets you college credit, half of my friends would’ve had Ph.D.’s before graduating high school!

If you need a break from all this studying, consider either “Leisure Studies” or “The American Vacation” (both at Iowa), or “Ballroom Dancing” at USC.  Or knitting.  Or learn to play the video game Starcraft.  Or read about “Calvin and Hobbes” (not the theologians, of course, the comic books).  Or get a leg up in the job market by becoming proficient at underwater basket weaving.

Or just don’t go to class at all.  A recent study has shown that one-third of college students skip class “frequently or occasionally,” while two-thirds report “frequently or occasionally” being late.  When they’re not in class, fully half of college students (3.8 million) binge drink or abuse drugs, but it doesn’t matter.  Even with all that slacking and killing of brain cells, A’s and B’s make up 73 percent of all grades awarded at public colleges, and 86 percent of all grades awarded at private colleges. Only 10% of the grades awarded are D’s or F’s, because, after all, dropouts and fail-outs don’t pay tuition.

And after four (to seven) years of doing little other than engaging in sexual degeneracy, developing a substance abuse problem, and being praised for learning how to walk, get dressed, watch television, play video games, read comic books, listen to Beyonce, take a vacation, prepare for the zombie or alien invasion / inter-species mating season, weave a basket underwater, and (lest we forget) develop grievances against men, these young adults wonder why nobody will hire them.  Roughly 40% of recent college graduates are unemployed, half of recent college graduates work jobs that don’t require a degree, and only 27 percent of college graduates have a job related to their major.  Indeed, recent graduates are now more likely to work as “waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined.” There are over 80,000 bartenders in America with a college degree.  There are over 5,000 janitors in the United States with either a doctorate or other professional degree.

Plus, they graduate with a mountain of debt the size of a mortgage which they’ll never pay off, and which will prevent them from getting a real mortgage.  And they will likely need public assistance, which means that despite all their “education” they will be in the same social taxonomy as the people they “studied” in the Judge Judy class.  But at least they’ll know how to use words like “intersectionality,” “multiculturalism,” “transnational feminism,” and “autoethnography” when complaining to their friends about how the system failed them

Well, probably not for long.  The open secret, shared by just about anybody who attended college and studied anything other than a hard science, is that most of what you “learn” you forget not long after the exam, unless you identify a specialization, focus almost exclusively on that, and pursue a career in it.  Otherwise, the only things you’re likely to retain will be a substance abuse problem, a sexually transmitted disease, and a diploma that is most useful as a placemat.

Look, college is what you make of it, and too many people make it into a joke.   I keep hearing people say that college shouldn’t be career-oriented, and that it’s not about finding a job, it’s about finding yourself.  Yeah, and if you think that way what you’ll find is yourself in debt and with no future and holding up a sign while you tend bar.  You shouldn’t go to college to figure out what to do with your life.  Not at $50,000 per year.   You should figure out what to do with your life and then decide whether college is right for you, and if so what specific course of study to pursue, based on the skills and knowledge you will need in your intended career.

In all honesty, part of me feels bad for the young lady in the picture.  How can I not?  She’s dug herself and her family into a hole from which they will likely never emerge.  But it’s not because it cannot be done, it’s because she doesn’t get it.  If she’s ever going to make anything out of herself, she needs to stop looking into a camera for sympathy and start looking into a mirror for accountability.  I get that she worked hard.  But it’s not about working hard, it’s about working smart.

And this person’s parents should go into their basement and explain to their adult child that she’s not the “99%.” That ninety-nine percent of Americans don’t waste the opportunities they’re given on frivolous academics (which, by the way, can be synonyms).  And that someone who has a kid needs to make smarter investments in terms of time and money, and that to pursue a useless degree with almost no chance of success was not only dumb, it was selfish.  A parent has a responsibility to provide for her child first and foremost.  Frivolous academic pursuits are a luxury she and her child couldn’t afford.

The good news for her is that there are careers out there to pursue.  There is a demand for skilled labor, and ways of developing those skills if she so chooses.  But for those more interested in “discovering themselves” than in developing practical (i.e., “valuable”) skills and knowledge specific to a field, then understand that the hardships that will follow are not a failure of Wall Street and not an indictment of the American Dream.  The American Dream is about taking advantage of opportunities, not being rewarded for wasting them.

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