A Few Words of Advice to Graduates

With the skyrocketing costs of higher education showing no signs of leveling out, much less decreasing, any time soon, I have been giving a lot of though to what it is a degree can do for those who chose to pursue one. Online courses and the growing monster that is known as MOOCs constitute only one path to getting that much coveted degree so that you can get a rise in pay or a promotion. The other path is the traditional face-to-face class one enrolls in at a university or college. The latter takes a considerable commitment and is not cost effective. I fear that soon the traditional way of getting a college degree will be available only to those who have the money to enroll. The former is really only a choice for those with busy lives and in search of fulfilling something that they were unable to because life had gotten in the way. I am not really interested all that much in the online path since those who take it are, I feel, a very specific demographic.

Since we are in the midst of graduation season I want to put forth a new theory about higher education. This theory begins with the following: unless you come from a rich family, don’t bother. Everything you need to know can be learned through books and a passport. Those who are considering enrolling in a university or college for four years, (six if a master’s degree is on your horizon) would be much better off getting a passport and traveling the world. But let me again be clear: if you are searching for that educational experience where you will come out a more well-rounded person, you would be better to travel and read on your own.

A word or two about traveling. First, please do not take part in anything that resembles a guided tour. These tours are designed for old folks and the perpetually simple minded. If a tour asks you to board a bus with a person standing up front speaking through a microphone, jump out the window. It’s much better to die a violent and painful death than submit yourself to one of these guided tours. I know I’ve taken a few. This is not traveling, it’s you being taken for a ride and looking ridiculous. It would be much better for you to buy a good map, a sensible pair of shoes, and a strong backpack and disappear among the streets and crowds. It’s also much better if you don’t speak the language. Do not let the fear of not being able to make yourself understood deter you from being adventurous. People are basically friendly and willing to help. Moreover, putting yourself in a position where it is difficult to communicate can provide enormous dividends in the long run.

Second, talk to as many people as you can. This includes the waiters and the shop owners, the taxi drivers and even people on the street. Stay away from the high-end hotels and the more touristy parts of town. If you really feel the need to make a visit to these tourist spots, it’s best to do so in the morning and be done with it. It’s also interesting to speak with fellow travelers, but never from your own country. Why? Because you already know what is going on back home.

Visiting libraries and even buying a lot of books will be much cheaper than the textbooks required in college classes. Read widely and deeply. Don’t stick to what you like, but pick up the classics. Start with a particular author or national literature or time period or genre and read a least one hundred books in that field or category. Read as much fiction as you can, then turn your attention to non-fiction. Stay away from the books listed under the “Current Events” sign in your local bookstore; those books are written mostly by politicians who had to hire some ghost-writer because most of our politicians are illiterate boobs. Certainly you should stay away from books written by anyone employed by the Fox News Network, unless, of course, you want to use the pages for toilet paper. The same can be said for those employed by MSNBC. Read history, but only by classical authors.

More and more colleges and universities are feeling the pressure to provide their students with deliverables. These might include a certain knowledge and expertise, but it might also include a job. Do not be fooled: there is no university in the world that can guarantee you a job. Yet, college and university administrators seem to be concerned less and less with education and more and more concerned with “outcomes,” a hideous word if ever there was one. So, if you are enrolling in college in order to get a good job, fine. Learn what you can, network whenever and wherever possible, and rack up that debt. But if you are enrolling to expand your mind and open yourself up to learning and thinking, you would be much better off hitting the open road with a book and a passport.

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