Is college worth the investment?


Sean Whitfield, Online Editor

Richard Arum, professor of sociology and education at NYU and author of “Academically Adrift,” writes in his book, “In recent cohorts of students, Barbara Schneider and David Stevenson have described the prevalence of ‘drifting dreamers’ with ‘high ambitions but no clear life plans for reaching them’ these students have ‘limited knowledge about their chosen occupations, about educational requirements, or about future demand for these occupations.’ They enter college we believe, largely academically adrift.”

Andrew Dickson sits down at his Robert Morris University provided desk and pushes aside the clutter of notes and empty water bottles, trying to focus on another assignment.

With a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt and scruffy blond beard, Dickson looks like a typical college student. He grinds away assignments working toward a vaguely defined career he might not even want to be a part of.

Distractions come in many forms.

Dickson changes gears and focuses on another novel he’s been working on. He loves writing fiction, basing characters off people in his life putting them in different worlds. He’s been writing for as long as he can remember, but this is the first time he’s tried to make an outline before writing.

Until now, he has written stream of consciousness, making the story up as he goes along. Some books are as long as 80 pages before they lose focus and sputter out with no direction, the main plot lost in a jumble of character development.

His writing is similar in many ways to his college education except he hasn’t made a detailed outline of that yet. He still has no more than the title of what his career is supposed to be.

“I have a knack for public relations, I understand the public and I’m good with writing and it just fits, but I’m just not sure where I want to go with it. I know I’ll eventually pick something but right now it feels like that day is never going to come. I feel like I’m never going to pick anything,” he said.

Dickson doesn’t believe that he will find a specific job for his skills in college. He has been sharpening his skills for years now, but he doesn’t know what he is actually preparing himself for.

When he graduated high school, he wasn’t even initially going to college.

“My mom basically forced me to sign up for college. I worked for the state for a year. My original game plan was I need to make some money and get some stability,” said Dickson.

His mother also convinced him to go to Robert Morris University for school. His cousin went to RMU and if it was good enough for her, then he would probably find that he liked RMU too. Neither choice was his own about what he was going to do; it was determined for him.

Even the choice of becoming a public relations major was from external pressure.

College students are encouraged early on to have a concentration well before they really know anything about the profession they are working towards.

“I don’t really like sports. I really want to go into music but there are no jobs there because the industry is dying. And the next answer is you want to go corporate but it’s so boring to me, and there’s non-profit but then you don’t make any money,” he explained.

Dickson is far from being a lazy student. He attends all of his classes, for the most part, and in his spare time improves his writing with creative short stories, spoken word poetry and novels. He has the ambition to make his mark in the music industry through marketing.

“When it comes to music, I have a lot of ideas on how to restructure the industry. That’s where I am with a lot of things I have a lot of ideas and I know if they were given the right backing they would work.”

Coupled with a crippled economy and a lack of education about job opportunities students are afraid of what they might find, or not find, when they graduate.

“Everywhere I look is a dead end. It’s just hitting me that in two years I might be stuck in this job that I might not completely like, it’s just scary,” Dickson explained. “I feel like if I don’t get a job right when I graduate that college is kind of pointless I feel like I failed somewhere if I don’t have something lined up.”

The only on the job training traditional universities offer are internships.

“I’ve been trying to get internships actively for a year now. They wouldn’t really give them to me because I was a sophomore.”

If universities wait until the final two years of a degree to offer a glimpse at what real careers are like, students aren’t able to change their major if they don’t like what they see and still graduate on time.