Around my home, we’re in full-on college mode. My older daughter is already off at school, and the younger, a high school junior, has taken us on a tour of exciting collegiate options from North Carolina to Massachusetts. They all have exquisite campuses, exciting academic programs, and total annual costs exceeding…I am pausing here to breathe…$50,000 a year. Four times $50,000 is—I am trying to breathe more slowly and deeply—a crazy number, especially when multiplied by two kids. It sounded even crazier when I read the other day that 53 percent of college grads under the age of 25 either have no job, or are waiting tables, manning receptionist desks, or folding sweaters at the mall. As Frank Bruni noted in The New York Times, college used to be “a synonym for success. We only had to go. We only had to graduate.” Now a diploma—especially in the liberal arts—guarantees nothing but a lot of debt.
Yes, I know: Education is not merely a means to a good job. You don’t have to convince me. In my college years, back in the less-competitive 1970s, I took classes in whatever I found intriguing—philosophy, psychology, English lit, and astronomy, with little thought to anything as crass as making money. After graduating, I found an entry-level job at a newspaper anyway. (Agreeing to working nights and weekends helped.) Today, education experts say a liberal arts degree isn’t entirely useless—as long as it’s followed by a graduate degree. Kids with a simple B.A. will still be folding sweaters at age 33. So do the math: 2 kids x $50,000 a year x seven years = ???! I’m breathing deeply, this time into a brown paper bag.