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Sisters debate the merit of a college degree

April 3, 2012

One sister took on enormous debt to become a lecturer at a presitigious Ivy Leauge university; the other decided to forgo college and works for slightly more than minimum wage. Which approach wins out? The answer isn’t easy.

Writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Briallen Hopper says she can’t imagine her life without her scholarly pursuits…

but as a non-tenure-track academic in a tough job market, she has limited job security, and she owes more than $800 a month in student-loan payments. Her student debt makes it impossible for her to save money or start a family anytime soon, and she is entering her mid-30s.

Johanna Hopper, who is 20, describes scholarship offers from several good colleges, but it wasn’t enough to avoid large student loans. She opted to take classes at a local state university while working and re-applying to college. Unfortunately, she received poor advising and took classes that don’t count toward a degree. After that, she says, she lost faith in higher education.

She left school and is now working full time for $13,000 a year. She’s proudly debt-free and self-supporting, and in her limited free time she is pursuing reading, writing, and the free or cheap cultural and educational opportunities available to her.

Johanna is proud of the choice she made, but she admits she faces limited job prospects, and she’s frustrated by the cultural stigma of not having a college degree.

Thanks to the stigma, it actually took me more than a year to realize that I was not a ‘college dropout.’ I was a 19-year-old, I was a salon receptionist, I was frugal, I was changing careers, I was a piano player, I was a little sister, and a daughter, and reader—I was so many things, yet the only label that stuck to me was ‘college dropout.’

This is the dilemma facing many high school seniors today: take on student loan debt for the promise of better career prospects, or go it alone in a tough economy. Not an easy choice at any age.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. trudy permalink
    April 5, 2012 9:24 am

    “she received poor advising and took classes that don’t count toward a degree.”

    Did she not read the course descriptions herself?

    • April 5, 2012 7:08 pm

      It sounds to me like she read the course descriptions but did not understand all the ins and outs of college policies. She also took some courses that she later learned she didn’t need because she had Advanced Placement credits from high school. My personal experience is that the rules about degree credits can be very confusing, especially for new college students. I also hear anecdotally from many students, particularly at community colleges although not exclusively, that advising is spotty and that they have difficulty getting good information about what classes they need and specifically which courses will meet those requirements.

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