• Flux Magazine

"Dear Students, We've Been Failed" by Noelle S. Dahl

Fellow graduates, set your graduation caps aside and secure your face masks, this will certainly be a year to remember. We must be all asking the same question—how did we get here? I’m not talking about being stuck in our homes and wasting time away by completing two thousand piece jigsaw puzzles. No. I mean how did we get here? How did we get to the point where we must re-evaluate our decisions days before graduating and deliberate over our next ones in such short of a time? Universities we’ve nearly broken our backs in order to get accepted into now seem fragile. Degrees we’ve drowned in debt over are proving to be tenuous. If coronavirus has given us one thing, it’s this: nothing is secure, certainly not college degrees.

Shaken by the current economic climate, students are swapping their admissions into prestigious universities for admissions into community colleges. I don’t blame them. There’s no reason to drop fifty grand for online learning when a hometown community college is offering identical general-ed classes for a fraction of the price. And students who worked to the bone to get accepted into their dream colleges should be mad. We all should be infuriated. But not because we have to permanently surrender our graduation ceremonies or because we are graduating college during a historic high in unemployment. No, we should be infuriated that it took a global pandemic to learn that we have been effectively lied to.

We have been conditioned to believe that waving a college degree somehow acts as an unemployment forcefield. That with a degree, job security exists on an unconditional level. In light of the times, we are potently seeing who has unwavering job security. Truck drivers. First responders. Food service workers. These are occupations that do not require a college degree so why have we been tricked into believing that if we obtain a college degree we are somehow exempt from unemployment or other economic hardships and who’s to blame? The short answer is all of us.

We must blame our teachers. We must blame our parents. We must blame the generation before us. Most importantly, we must blame ourselves. We contribute to the attitude that a bachelors degree is equivalent to an American passport or birth certificate. That without one, you are condemned to civil servitude. COIVD-19 should be the pinnacle of why this belief is not only defective, but entirely constructed. Sure, many occupations require years of necessary higher education to provide expertise in say field, but most of us are not studying to become physicians or scientists. Most of us are getting a degree in order to be able to qualify for a decently paying job after graduation. And now that coronavirus has terminated the employment of millions of decently paying jobs, we must ask ourselves this: Was acquiring a college degree worth it if job security, in essence, does not exist?

Right now, the mythical unicorn seems more likely to exist than job security. Surely we can blame the government for failing to prepare for a national disaster like COVID-19, but there are limits to how much we could’ve prepared for this pandemic. The truth is no one expected our economy to crumble from virus the way it has. Small businesses are fading before us. National corporations are filing for bankruptcy. Jobs that we thought were “safe” are truthfully far from it. So where does that lead students who are graduating and entering the workforce? Where and when are we supposed to seek out jobs?

This is a question I find myself asking everyday. Before COVID-19, I was on the right track. I spent three years welcoming a demanding schedule to be able to graduate early from college and get my foot in the employment door. I had better than decent grades and an impressive resume. I was preparing not only for graduating, but to become a suitable applicant for when I apply to jobs after college. Days away from receiving my diploma, two words teem my thoughts—now what? How should incoming freshmen feel about enrolling in college? How should a graduating senior feel about leaving their university ankles deep in debt? These are questions that only time will have the answers for. Coming from a college senior not graduating from prestigious university, but a state college, here’s my advice: Degree or no degree, we must aim to build a future that may not be immune to disaster, but one that we have prepared for.

We must be part of the solution, not the problem.

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