I am still getting feedback from my recession story, “Is College Worth It?” and related blog entries about the challenges of starting your career loaded with debt in a horrible economy. Some parents of high school seniors and asked me what can they say to their children to convince them not to attend an expensive college. As I’ve wrote many back via email, I believe in the end, it’s going to be up to the students do decide whether the debt is worth it. I am still learning it the hard way.
I’ve also heard many of my friends talk about marriage and starting a family. But is this the best economy to do that? Ricky, one contributor to the Recession Diaries, is also figuring it out. Amid stiff competition among college grads, Ricky was fortunate enough to land a low-paying but entry-level position in his field. Then he found out his girlfriend was pregnant, and had to take on more work to cover him, his new wife and baby on the way. Read his email to me to see how it all turned out.
“My post-college financial woes actually hit me before this monster of a recession grabbed a hold of the economy. I graduated from the University of Maryland in College Park with a Journalism degree in spring of 2006. Following graduation I took a month off and went overseas for a brief study abroad, telling myself I’d hit the ground running when I returned to look for a job.
When I arrived back in the States from my trip, I was struck by the dearth of quality media jobs available. Many companies expected me to apply for full-time internships even though I was a graduate and I’d already done an internship while I was a student.
After a month of applying for jobs I was contacted by a recruiter about an editorial assistant job with a start-up online media company. I thought to myself, finally my degree is going to pay off. That was until before I was told, after a successful interview, that my salary would be in the high $20,000s upon hiring. I was crushed. But I also didn’t have any other offers on the table at the time either, so I took it. Then in September of that year, my girlfriend got pregnant and she was due to graduate in December. What were we to do?
I moved in with her and with our meager salaries combined we struggled. Credit card debt, student loan debt, rent, food, car insurance, it all felt towering and insurmountable. And once my son was born, finding child care was another financial brick laid on our shoulders. We were married in ’07 and ducking and dodging bill collectors to make ends meet, and in the beginning of ‘08 the money still wasn’t enough. So I did what I thought as a college grad I never thought I would have to do: I went back to working retail part-time.
I worked part-time at Babies ‘R’ Us on weekends on top of my full-time job, moving crib displays, helping women pick out the right breast pump and recommending car seats and strollers. As I was stacking boxes of diapers and teetering on top of metal shelves 30 feet off the ground to bring down a travel system for expecting parents, I thought to myself, “Why did I go to college again?” If a four-year degree doesn’t even grant you an entry-level job with a livable wage — and by livable I mean a salary that allows you to live on your own, without a roommate, pay your bills and still have something to put aside each month — then why did my parents tell me I had to go to college? Aren’t there car salesman who didn’t have to spend four years in higher education institutions making more than me?
But three months later my fortunes changed. My wife landed a decent-paying job in her field (Wow! It only took a year) and shortly after I got a sizeable promotion after my supervisor vacated his position. I was able to quit Babies ‘R’ Us and regain my sanity and time for my family.
So where does that leave me today with regard to college and whether it’s worth its price? I think it is still worth pursuing, but I also think not going to college is a viable option as well. The truth is we need to be more honest with teens as they’re entering college because while yes, education can make you a better communicator, it can make you a better analyst, it won’t necessarily afford you any luxuries on its own. Education is an investment in your future and as today’s markets have shown us, investments aren’t guaranteed. They’re always somewhat of a gamble.”
Like me, Ricky feels in the end, his school of choice was worth it. Still, be educated about the debt you may accumulate, and read up on the financial hardship many succumb in their post-grad lives. You can never be too sure of what will happen in the future.
Fortunately, things seem to be on the up and up for Ricky and his family, but I know many people who have ended up pregnant during college or shortly after and find themselves struggling. Making matters worse is funding their education with loans with high interests for careers that initially pay meager wages.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.