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The Graduate

No, not that one.

I have *finally* completed college. Forever. No for real. I know we all say “never say never” and honestly, if you had told me I’d go back to school, I would have rolled my eyes and changed the subject. I now have a Health Sciences Associate of Science (I know, don’t bust my chops. I had enough credits to earn it, so why shouldn’t I) and an Entrepreneur/Small Business Diploma. I got to actually walk in my graduation. As annoying as graduation is (lesson learned, y’all), it was a delicious finality and a “yes you’re actually done” moment, celebrating literally 8 years of work. It was that “you can unclench” moment.

I really did it!

Except… I still can’t. I graduated on the 16th of May. I turned my last-ever assignment in on the 4th of May. Its currently the 31st of May. In a matter of days, it will be a month – a full 31 days – since I’ve officially been deemed “not a student anymore.” And I’m still stuck in the trauma hamster wheel of homework.

Now, In my school’s defense, I elected exclusively online or hybrid classes for these last 9 courses. An online asynchronous course obviously requires all self-started learning. Even a hybrid course, where you spend your lecture on a zoom with your class, while your professor lectures from home, requires a significant amount of diligence and discipline. I am a massive fan of online courses, even when the workload is horrifying. Anything that allows me to work “on my time” and never have to sit through a lecture is a win for me.

However, this is where we run into a particularly grating issue, and is the main reason why I will never go back to college nor will I recommend that someone to get a degree if the don’t actually need it. I’m sure you’re not surprise that I am a proponent of student debt relief. But it extends beyond the weight of the financial cost of a degree. 39% of graduates don’t believe their degree was worth the money for a variety of very valid reasons (don’t believe me, read more here). My biggest overall WTF from all of my most recent years of college was the absolutely insane workload.

I know I didn’t get a fancy, specialized degree. I didn’t get a master’s, doctorate, or even a bachelor’s. Heck, this 2nd degree is only considered a “diploma” program because its not a full 16 courses, so its technically not even an associate’s. I ~know~ that my 24 credits over the last year wasn’t learning to be a neurosurgeon. I do know that the U.S. absolutely revels in making students slog through extreme academic and financial hoops to earn their educations, though. Even though my degree was not advanced or high-knowledge, I was expected to spend a stifling number of hours on my coursework each week.

Take the digital classroom “Connect” for example. I would need to spend at least an hour reading the section, then moving onto the “comprehension and practice” portion but I’m generally familiar with the content so I skip ahead to the work. “This exercise will take an estimated 1 hour” proclaims the opening page. Two hours later, I’m frustrated, haven’t done more than master regurgitating the questions put forth (not the actual material), and I’m exhausted. I’ve ignored my child. I’ve snapped 303847 times. I’ve snacked entirely too much. I’ve yelled at my computer.

The $1.75 trillion dollar question (haha get it, the collective current student debt) is, did I learn the material? Well… not really. I learned the material they wanted me to regurgitate. Could I teach a class on it? I’m pretty good at BSing my way through just about anything – hi, remember me, the girl with the 4.0? But do I feel like I came through hours upon hours of drudgery with a solid understanding of the core material in a way that is valid for my degree? In a word, no.

So why do we impose this heavy workload when we aren’t even getting students what they need? Well, mainly because its easy. Assigning tests and homework via a platform where all that’s required is picking questions is a significantly easier setup than designing your own assignments, paging through the text each year because they tweak it constantly, to pick new questions, designing thoughtful and thorough video recorded lectures, etc. etc. etc. I learned quickly in my third and final quest to earn my degree: you don’t have to master the material to be functional, you have to master the material they want you to master. It doesn’t matter that I was learning corporate HR practices that will never pertain to my small business. I had to master the facts set before me. It doesn’t matter that I was learning organic chemistry with absolutely no real-world or degree-related touchpoints. I had to master the facts in front of me. It doesn’t matter that the information I was required to know had no correlation to anything “real world”.

Being an almost-exclusively kinesthetic learner, memorization without correlation is painful. And usually a brief memorization, at best. I’m not completely hopeless; I do remember things, just not usually terribly useful things. So when I can’t correlate why 4-chlorobenzaldehyde is relevant to any lab test I might have ever performed, I’m unlikely to make enough connections in my mind to say “ah ha! Yes, this is important enough to actually remember!”

Now obviously, we can’t custom tailor every educational situation to each individual student unless you’re paying for such a luxury, but there are some heinous flaws in the American education system (gun violence, aside) that need to be addressed as urgently as student debt and inclusivity. My greatest concern, especially as there seems to be no real promise of free college in the near future, is that educational requirements, especially Gen Eds, but not excluding many other requisite courses, are entirely too general. I chose to continue on and earn my second degree, despite feeling strongly that I didn’t need it, because I wanted the completion under my belt, but because I also felt I might gather some helpful tidbits here and there that would help me run a tight ship in my business. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love a perspective-enhancing course. But with a refined course program, tailored to my degree, I could have easily earned an associate’s instead of just a diploma, all in one year. Would this take a lot of work on the school and professors’ parts? Absolutely. But I would almost guarantee, dedicated professors who have devoted themselves not only to teaching, but also to earning their own degrees and expertise in their fields, would revel in the opportunity to truly fine-tune degrees. I’ll propose a more streamlined, less individual class based style in a later post.

At the end of the day, in the US, we are stuck. It doesn’t seem to be likely we will see much change on anything related to education in this country in our lifetime. I’m hoping we’ll see it in our children’s lifetime, but I’m not holding my breath, unfortunately. I spend the last 3 years in college, full time, caring for a child 99.9% on my own, trying to figure out how to survive financially and mentally through it all. Its not an easy task. And now that I have officially graduated, the monumental task of actually relaxing and shifting into “make it happen” mode is absolutely wild to me. Sure, the college offers all sorts of transition support. Am I stubborn? Absolutely. But I also had 8 different professors who seemed wholly uninterested in mentorship or what we were actually doing after graduation. Its not their responsibility. That said, just like most experiences throughout my lifetime in education, it would have been nice to be “special” to just one professor.

We are stuck in an endless trauma cycle of hyperawareness. Most weeks as a full time student entailed no less than 8 assignments plus any papers and projects you’re likely preparing for all semester. There is rarely a waking moment where I’m wasn’t doing an assignment or worrying about them. Sometimes it was because I wasn’t able to start a weeks’ assignments because they were still locked (as in, you can’t see what’s required, access the material outside of reading for that section, or begin) when I actually had time to work. For three years, I was stuck in this horror cycle because I took classes year-round for one reason or another and now I’m finding it impossible to relax. I’m sure I’ll get there eventually. I’m struggling to figure it out, without a doubt, but I hope I can translate that suffering into a more productive and healthy energy soon! Life has never been “normal” for me so this next stage is a whole new juncture!

Congratulations to all my fellow graduates, and best of luck, keep on truckin’ to everyone who’s not quite there yet!-

Jess