Senior reflections on debt, the liberal arts, personal growth

Thursday May 1, you arrived unexpectedly. Like Dumbledore said (and the Countdown to Commencement reminds us), “Time is making fools of us again.” But more importantly, we can’t forget about Benjamin Franklin and every economist who knows that, “Time is money.” College is expensive, even at a state school. I threw down the monetary equivalent of two new cars to come here because I thought it was the default, or else I would be jobless forever. There wasn’t a conversation about an alternative – I applied and went. And it’s worse for students at private universities and colleges who graduate with not only two cars, but a house worth of debt.

I was confident with my “decision” until I went to loan counseling this week, and was hit hard with the unsettling reality of debt; that money on which I’ve been riding since fall 2010. I avoided confrontation, probably irresponsibly, until now, a moment in which I was struck with my first pang of debt regret.

And so the argument goes: Is college – are the liberal arts – a worthwhile investment anymore, or are we a part of an inflated, frothy system that spits out worthless degrees faster than ever before? Is our college wrongly encouraging adolescents to take on debt to pursue its degree offerings?

On the one hand, Franklin is right: The opportunity cost of these four years might have been quite high, and some may even admit that their liberal arts degrees are useless, dated and unnecessary. The Federal Reserve released a study recently that found that many college graduates are working either part time or in low-wage jobs – especially those with degrees in the humanities.

A lot of us will graduate facing a still-slack labor market with possible structural unemployment issues at hand; some avoid this market by delving further into their higher education.

On the other hand, there are unquantifiable benefits of a liberal arts degree that outweigh those hefty five digits. You won’t find the real value of my four-year investment on my transcript or in my future salary. You can’t place a number on personal growth and interpersonal development like the lasting connections I’ve made with both students and faculty – I mean it.

I came to college and I grew, all the while becoming enthralled in my areas of research. I was able to explore my areas of interest and I am hopeful for a career in socially-good work due to a set of morals and ethics (gently) instilled in me during my time at Geneseo.

When it comes down to it, my most notable qualifications on my resume come from extracurricular and internship activities, rather than my coursework or those “skills” gained in professional development events. I have the School of Business not to thank for that last part.

Outside of the structured years of college, time is limitless – and we’re wealthy by those standards. I cannot tell you if choosing Geneseo will provide me with a “better” job or more “successful” career than my alternative paths might have. While I’ll be trapped in a 10-year payment plan like an indentured servant in the shackles of what’s become of higher education in the United States, my education here will continue through my 20s – consider this coming decade a free expansion pack.