For older Millennials like myself, earning a college degree was mostly a default decision - something we always knew we would (or should) do.* If there was any light grumbling, it was trumped by a feeling of duty to our future selves -- and bank accounts. But we graduated shortly before the recession hit.
Young Millennials watched us struggle to land a job -- any job. They witnessed the weakening power of a degree alongside ballooning tuition costs. And yet, without student loan reform or an alternate path validated by society, an expensive four-year degree is still touted as the only way to climb the career ladder. (Even though the career ladder is looking mighty rickety nowadays). And now we have an excellent breeding-ground for cynicism.
Which is exactly what sparked the video below. A group of young Millennials, led by YouTube star Ryan Higa, recently made a parody advertisement for a for-profit university. (If, like me, you're lucky enough to be shown an actual college recruitment ad before the video plays, enjoy the irony):
I've been seeing similar sentiments popping up elsewhere, too. Here's another parody college recruitment commercial, released on College Humor in 2008, that skewers the oversold and under-promised reality of average universities.
Now, I don't think this bit of satire is about to start a revolution. The attitudes in it might be nonconformist, but the actions are not. It's not as if these students are actually swearing off college to prove a point. Instead, they're resigned to it because "what other choice do they have?" The videos are actually about solidarity -- finding a little bit of comfort in collective frustration. Like sharing an eye-roll with someone stuck in line with you at the DMV. But you still go to the DMV.
Except for a few. Like 21-year-old Dale Stephens, who at 19 founded UnCollege. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Stephens, who was home-schooled since fifth-grade, wanted to foster "a social group for self-learners to trade tips on how to learn enough through nontraditional means to get the job they’re aiming for." The basic structure of the program is built on four phases: 1) Launch (meet your "fellows" and mentors, develop meta-learning skills), 2) Voyage (spend three months working in a country where you don't speak the language), 3) Internship, and 4) Project (an exhibition, a business plan, a functioning company, etc). To be honest, this looks a lot like a compressed graduate school program with a study-abroad add-on. And it still costs $15,000.
But there are signs of movement towards practicality in administrative places, too -- like the College Board, which just reconfigured its SAT test after we posted this story. With practical application and fairness in mind, they gutted the vocabulary section, made prep tests available to anyone regardless of ability to pay, and pronounced the essay section optional. (The essay only had a nine-year stint on the test anyway).
There are also more "official" eyes prying into the practices of (specifically for-profit) universities, which have been sued before but not regulated. Now that student complaints have reached a critical mass, states and the federal government are stepping in to see what can be done to combat the "deceptive advertisements, bribes for positive performance and misleading financial aid practices," that students allege occurs at some for-profit institutions, like DeVry.
*Full disclosure: I relished my college experience, and my English major. Was I a bit unprepared for a job in media, publishing, or editing? Sure. A bit. But I'm also one of the lucky few who walked out of there completely free from student loan debt. (Thanks, Mom and Dad).