Photo Credit: wohnai

Seven years ago, I was accepted into a double masters program. The first year was to be at the London School of Economics and the second year was to be at the University of Southern California. I was absolutely thrilled to be accepted; LSE has the reputation of one of the best schools in the world and I felt incredible to be accepted. I bought a one way to ticket to London just before tuition prices were raised. To be fiscally responsible, I sat down with a financial adviser to go over the rise in tuition.

I learned that with international student loan rates, a two-year masters program would cost me over $250,000 in student loan repayment. It broke my heart to walk away from LSE but I did. Shortly thereafter, I got hired at the California Academy of Sciences. Knowing what I know today, I don’t know if I would apply again for a higher education degree.

Student loans in the US are out of control. This year, student loan debt eclipsed credit card dept in the United States, a debt that is very close to one trillion dollars. Even if a person declares bankruptcy, their student loan debt cannot be expunged. Wages and disability income can be garnered in order to pay a loan that is in default. College tuition rates have also have risen exponentially, more than 900% since 1978. I know many friends who have graduated from college with more than $100,000 in loans to pay back. I graduated from University of California, Berkeley over ten years ago and I am still paying back a major portion of my loans.

So the question that I have seen often as of late – it the price tag worth the experience? I walked away from LSE because I knew I would have to take a corporate job making a six-figure salary right out of my masters program to be able to afford and justify my education. Not only is that unfeasible, it was against my intentions to go to school in the first place, as I have maintained a vested interest in the non-profit sector throughout my career. It is also frightening to look at that price tag on a larger scale. With so many young professionals flooding the work force loaded down with significant dept, their risk tolerance is very conservative. Innovation, entrepreneurship and advances in science and technology suffer because risk and money are not there to be put into business prospects; they are tied up in the debt of student loans. Poor education has been made the culprit for US lagging behind in science and technology but what if student loans have something to do with it? I tried to get dual citizenship when I lived in England because as an English citizen, my education would have been paid for.

These questions and concerns have spurned a un-college movement; which inspires students to get a college education without paying a cent. No longer does a college education determine success; inspires students of all ages to create their education and community around their own goals and aspirations in order to gain valuable real life experience.

Looking back on my undergraduate experience, I have incredibly fond memories. Since I had Attention Deficit Disorder, I worked with my teachers to make my college experience my own. I would reject assignments, talk to my teachers after class and suggest alternative assignments. I deepened my relationship with my mentor because I didn’t accept my education on his terms. He wrote a recommendation letter to LSE lauding me as an exemplary student because I carved out my own education rather than accepting the set curriculum. I am sure that characteristic of out of the box learning got me accepted into the masters program. The un-college movement is following the beat of their own drummer as well; they are just taking it out of the classroom and making it much more affordable.

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Un-College? 2 August,2012Cat



Cathleen (Cat) is the former Special Projects Manager at California Academy of Sciences and worked in the public programs division.
Before working at the Academy, Cat got her start as an intern at Lindsay Wildlife Museum for four years and worked with animals ranging from snakes and hawks to foxes and bobcats. She has a deep curiosity about the natural world and native California wildlife.

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