Degree of Difficulty

All things considered, I think I dealt with my first rejection
from a Target store pretty well. After all, a cashier job wasn’t my
first choice for postcollege employment. Months later, though, I
was still looking. And the second rejection from Target really
hurt. Here I was, a graduate of one of the country’s top-rated
liberal arts colleges (and carrying the debt load to prove it), and
I couldn’t get hired to stock shelves.

A year after graduation, I’m still jobless — as are many of my
former classmates. The stress of having little money is compounded
by knowing that someday I’ll have to start paying off tens of
thousands of dollars in student loans. And I’m beginning to wonder
whether this is more than an annoying blip in the economy. Maybe
this is evidence that America needs to take a new look at how we
think about higher education.

In Britain, for instance, university education costs students
about $1,700 a year even at prestigious schools like Oxford and
Cambridge, thanks to government support. British students can also
get interest-free loans to fund both class fees and living
expenses. Taxpayers generally see such programs as an investment in
the future rather than an expensive subsidy. And Britain is not
alone. Scandinavian countries, Austria, and Portugal offer free
university education. In Germany, students receive extensive
vocational training to complement their academic studies. Yet here
in the United States, young people at the start of their careers
are usually burdened by massive college debt and receive little in
the way of career guidance.

Most students are forced to improvise their way into the job
market. And while that can be rewarding in its own way — I’ve done
three months in a summer-stock theater company, worked at the local
Democratic Party headquarters during the last election, and
interned at Utne — a paying job would be a lot
better.

UTNE
UTNE
In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.