I received my Master’s Degree in Music last month, marking the end of my six years as a college student. I couldn’t have been more proud to receive my diploma at the time, and fell asleep that night with visions of sugarplums and me in a tie starting a career and helping keep the great cogs of the American economy turning.
My college education taught me how to be a better performer and musician. It taught me how to think more critically, be a better writer, and navigate the halls of academic bureaucracy. It taught me how to be an adult, and, in theory, prepared me to enter the workforce and start a career.
Luckily, it also taught me how to survive on Ramen noodles and cheap canned beer, a skill that actually seems much more relevant to my current life than the other ones I go on about above. Because – you guessed it – weeks after tossing my Master’s Degree in my underwear drawer for safekeeping, I am still one of the 40 percent of recent college graduates who are unemployed.
Not only are many recent college grads unemployed, but the majority of us (me included) are lugging around enormous albatrosses called “student loans.” According to statistics from American Student Assistance, nearly 20 million Americans attend college every year and 12 million of them rely on student loans to help pay for that privilege.
Student loans were probably a reasonable way to pay for college at some point in our history, but have you seen how much it costs to attend one these days? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of tuition, room and board at a 4-year university during the 2010/11 school year was $21,657. That’s up from $15,996 ten years earlier and $12,303 ten years before that. Inflation, you say? Oh, no. These dollar figures are presented in “Constant 2009-10 Dollars,” adjusted for inflation. Think that’s bad? Don’t even get me started on grad school.
So yeah, good thing my college education prepared me for living like a pauper, because even if I do manage to find a job, I’m going to have to feed that albatross!
These problems are obviously much bigger than just me, but a friend of mine who works in PR tells me, “you need to put a face on it when you’re talking about this stuff.” Well, I’ve got a face. I’m 24, come from a nice middle class New England family, and am now a classically-trained musician with a hungry albatross and no food to feed it.
There are millions of others just like me out there, looking for a chance to put our education to work and begin pulling our load and paying our debt. We’ll take entry level. We’ll take temporary. We’ll take just about anything at this point. Just give us a chance, OK?
Michael Meehan can be contacted at email@example.com