Not all education is good education

In “Education is the Key to Success” I discussed the merits of the argument that an education should guarantee you a job.  I contend that it is important to obtain some form of college education.  However, it is imperative that students know exactly what type of education they are getting, and from whom they are receiving it.  As the New York Times points out in “In Hard Times, Lured into Trade School and Debt,” not all schools are created equal.

How much is too much to pay?

There are many “schools” out there promising students the opportunity of a lifetime.  They recruit, and recruit hard.  They call you constantly. They email you daily.  Yet, what they are offering may actually be fools gold.  Before signing up to go to any college or university you need to do serious homework.

Some schools are known as “diploma mills”.  These are schools where you do very little to earn your degree besides pay tuition.  While this might appeal to some people, they are highly upset when the realize that these “degrees” have no weight in the business world.  Employers and graduate schools know a fraud when they see it. Diploma mills are often nationally accredited if accredited at all.  Keep in mind that it’s not national accreditation you want; instead you’re looking for regional accreditation.  This is important.  Accreditation is a process through which schools recognize each other.  It means that the school has been evaluated and it is agreed upon that the members of that body will accept each others credits.  Look up the schools you have heard of and you’ll find that they are regionally accredited, not nationally, and this means that these schools only recognize other regionally accredited schools.  If you try to apply to let’s just use Harvard University for graduate school, and your degree is from a nationally accredited institution, they will reject you without looking at any of the rest of your application.  Be sure to ASK about accreditation because even major schools have lost it before.

However, other schools that are properly regionally accredited schools still promise the moon and charge you the sky to deliver.  As discussed by this article, people who are going for trade school certificates are starting to be fleeced, and often they don’t even have a final credible credential to show for it.  One rule of thumb I tell prospective students is that if the school is trying too hard to get you to sign up quick, fast, and in a hurry then the hairs on the back of your neck should stand up.  Look for what they aren’t telling you.  What happens if you decided to sign up for classes and want to drop them?  Can you get your money back?  What is the refund policy? What is the institution’s placement rate after graduation? (Although in this economy everyone is having troubles in this area.)  How much is the tuition in comparison to other colleges and universities?  A 40 thousand dollar per year education, from a little known school may not be worth the sticker price.

A successful college experience centers within your ability to be sure that whatever college you attend, whatever degree or trade school certificate you earn that you can come out of the experience with a debt load you can manage, and a credential that has some long term potential for growth.  You’re going to have to get out there and ask tough questions, filter through long-winded answers, and with hope, find the right fit for you.

Education is the key to success?

The newest trend in higher education seems to be that students and graduates are blaming professors, their alma maters, and the universe for their inability to find jobs in the Great Recession.  They state that someone should have told them that their degrees were not going to guarantee them anything, and that someone should limit the number of people who can go to college because the job market is cluttered.

One blogger cries: What does it say about the state of our nation and the effectiveness of our educational system when a first generation college student with dual degrees from the best universities in America believes the only option left for her is to take out yet another private loan to get her PhD because she is unable to find a job – any job – even as a barista at the local Starbucks?

Well, I still believe in educating yourself to better yourself.  However, that doesn’t mean that I advocate not doing your homework.  You have got to spend time researching your industry.  I hope the above blogger realizes that the job market for PhDs is worse, and has been for a longtime, than the market for lawyers.  At some point you have to take charge of your education and make smart choices.

It may not make sense for a first generation college student to take out massive loans to fund their education.  While it is the dream of many to attend elite institutions, you may have to earn your degree at a less expensive one.  If that’s not the option you want then while still in high school you need to be stellar and earn scholarships.  Tons of schools are reaching out to first generation college students now, so there is money out there.  Those of you who have already graduated with your undergraduate degree may have to seriously reconsider pursuing an unfunded graduate degree.  Colleges operate like businesses, which means they aren’t in the business of handing out free education.  Nor do they come with a money back guarantee.  So before you gamble on earning a professional degree DO YOUR RESEARCH.  Try to talk to people in the field, talk to professors, talk to past alums, spend some time in the library, do a google/bing search.  There is plenty of information out there now.

Also, watch out for diploma mills, and schools that promise the moon and charge you the sky to deliver.  As discussed by this article, people who are going for trade school certificates are starting to be fleeced, and often they don’t even have a final credible credential to show for it.  One rule of thumb I tell prospective students is that if the school is trying too hard to get you to sign up quick, fast, and in a hurry then the hairs on the back of your neck should stand up.

Finally, there are plenty of people out of work right now.  The Great Recession has claimed professional and trade jobs alike.  It is semi-arrogant to believe that a few college loans and a newly minted piece of paper in hand will make you immune to what is happening globally.  Those of us who are working have had to take paycuts, accept furlough days, have dealt with the disappearance of our retirement contributions, live with roommates, etc.  Everyone is trying to make it work, and no one wants to hear about your “fancy” degree and why it entitles you to anything but the ability to look for a job like everyone else.

I’m not saying it isn’t difficult.  I’m not saying that things aren’t frustrating for those of you who do have thousands of dollars in debt and cannot find work.  However, I am saying that you may have to accept a job in a field you don’t love and doing something that you merely tolerate just until it gets better for all of us.

Spring is recruitment season

Spring semester is the time when students beg professors to hold classes outside  if they go to class at all!  It is super easy to go from stellar student in the winter to spring slacker because you are  dying to get outside after being bundled up in a coat for months.  Your

Spring Fever

friends may be hanging out in front of the library or in the grass on the campus quad.  However, the wise student knows that the spring signals an even more important time of the year – recruitment season.

Every year college career service offices work hard to bring employers to campus to work with their students.  A college’s reputation rests on many things, and the rate of employment placement  of its students is one of the most important.  Right now employers are looking for their final hires for summer internships and new permanent hires.  Don’t wait until May graduation to begin looking for a job!

These tough economic times call for students to be super proactive, and there are a few keys to being successful.  First, get to know your professors.  Every employer is going to want recommendations.  If your professors don’t know who you are then they are going to give you lukewarm references if they agree to give you one at all.  Professors you’ve had in the past are great as well.  Go visit them and update them on how you’re doing. If you’ve been a classroom wallflower then bone up on how to impress your instructors here.

You should also visit the career services office.  These offices typically have the counselors who can help spruce up your resume, and

Time to Visit Career Services

provide you with the latest information on who is hiring on your campus.  Show the initiative by making an appointment, and dressing well when you stop by.  Remember they are trying to sell the college to employers, and not necessarily you.  Make it easy for them to recommend you instead of the next person.

Lastly, check in with your network.  Do your parents have contacts they can introduce you to?  How about your neighbors?  What about your high school teachers?  Landing a position in a down economy is about having both the right credentials, and then having those credentials reviewed by the hiring manager.  If someone recommends you for a internship or job then your resume may go to the top of the pile.  Don’t be obnoxious and demand that someone help you, but it can pay off to shoot a well crafted email or pay a visit to those who have known you and helped you along the way.

Still searching for the field you love?  No worries, see “Preparing for employment” for ways you can begin thinking about building the experience and knowledge necessary to compete.