Monday, April 4, 2011

Nana Ponders Lies

There are classic lies: the check is in the mail, my dog ate my homework. There are white lies: Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. So lies can be benign, but they can also be hurtful. Sometimes the hard part is figuring out what’s a lie and what isn’t.

This morning I read a blog written by a fifty-something woman who graduated last May with a BS in Liberal Studies. Several years ago she quit her job, took out a boatload of student loans and returned to college to earn a degree.

In schools around the country there’s a big push for all students to continue their educations beyond high school. There is a lot of government money available to assist students in continuing their educations. Low income students can receive grants that they don’t have to pay back. All students can receive loans. Some loans are subsidized by the government, meaning that the government either covers the interest while the student is actively studying or they receive a lower interest rate.

You don’t need a high school diploma to attend junior college, you only need to be 18 years old. Junior colleges usually require placement tests of all students. Students who don’t meet educational standards are required to take non-credit level courses , at the same cost as college classes, to build skills before taking college-level credit classes.

Because the economy is down, a lot of people have returned to college. They’ve been told that education is the answer. If you want a good job, you have to have a college education. People with college educations earn more money than people who just have a high school diploma. So, the blogger quit her job, that was providing for her middle class lifestyle, got her government subsidized loans and followed her dream to become an educator. Now, several years later she has massive student loan debt and has been unable to find any job since she graduated in May. She has a BS degree but still needs another year of college to complete requirements for a teaching license.

My father’s wife (she’s younger than me, but that’s a story for another day) graduated a year ago with a BS in nursing from a state university. She passed her state boards and is a registered nurse. She had been told that there is a massive shortage of registered nurses. She took out a fortune in student loans and went back to school. Since graduating, she has taken temporary jobs and done home care for elderly patients, but can’t find a full-time position…most hospitals want RNs with experience, and she has only her nursing training experience.

So what do these little stories have to do with lies?

We’ve been lied to. A college education is not an automatic ticket to a good job and high pay. Student loans may enable everyone to attend college, but they also place a huge financial burden on the graduate for years after leaving college. Education is important and it can help you get ahead, but it isn’t a magic pill that will solve all your problems.

It is especially troubling to me to see so many young students taking out loans to cover their living expenses while in college. It’s one thing to have debt to pay tuition, but using government loans to support yourself for four years is a one way ride to massive debt.

If you're considering going back to school because there's a lot of student aid available, make sure that you're ready to actually learn something that is marketable.  Even if you're attending school on free money, you need to be receiving value for that money.  Learn something.  A degree is just a piece of paper and is worthless if you haven't acquired the skills and proficiencies you need to be a good worker....and that is no lie!


  1. To paraphrase an old song: They owe their soul to the company store...

  2. Very good advice, Nana. I hope those who are in limbo about whether or not to return to school listen to you. My career is behind me, and I am in absolutely no way interested in going back to school. But I sure hear you about the present situation for many...

  3. I have a 56-yeaar-old sister and a 33-year-old son starting nursing school this fall. Both will be taking out student loans. I'll pass this along. Thanks.

  4. Linda, The HR Director at our local hospital says they never hire nurses without several years experience. My dad's wife has interviewed a couple of times, but no luck so far. I know too many people who are blindly taking out student loans and expecting that when they finish school they will earn so much more money that they can pay them off, and it just doesn't happen that way. Especially if someone is place bound, they need to really investigate the job opportunities to determine if, even after they get an advanced degree, they will be employable.

  5. My son tried to become a doctor after leaving the army. In addition to the grants he gets as a GI he still had to take out tens of thousands of dollars in order to support his family. But things dried up when the recession hit and he could not continue even though he was 3/4 through. So he and his family have fled the USA and are now in Asia where he is teaching English.

  6. This is the basis for an interesting discussion. I just wonder where everyone thinks the fault lies. With the system, the individual, or both?

  7. An excellent post! I wish our nation could read it. It's a message that needs to be repeated over and over. I commend you for this message.

  8. You set the record straight, and people ought to pay attention. But, in many cases, we are all gullible.

  9. Amen, sister! I hear ya. Preach on.

    I've worked in higher ed since 2004. I cringe when I see the debt that is being incurred by those who think they will get a job just because they have that college degree.

    My own children are saddled with more student loans than I even want to think about.

    Higher ed is now having to have more support systems in place if they are going to take federal loan monies. I've been to national conferences on this topic. The conferences were paid for by Nelnet. They understand that if there isn't someone making good on these promises then they will never get their money back.

    Great post.

  10. Good advice here. My husband is still struggling to find permanent work. We have kicked around the idea of training in a new area, but the market is so shaky. We don't know what works for him as a new field. And we can't afford the training anyway. Great post.


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