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Opinion: 'Not everyone needs or should have to go to college'

All I was left with was over three thousand worth of debt, no job prospects and a qualification no better than my Leaving Cert, writes Laura Buckley.

Laura Buckley Writer

ONE TRILLION DOLLARS. That’s the total cost of student loan debt in America – it’s the second highest category behind mortgage repayments.

Students in England will leave university with an average debt of just over fifty thousand pounds per person. Three quarters of these graduates will never be able to pay off what they owe and can even still be paying off their third level borrowing in thirty years’ time.

Here in Ireland, the cost of getting a college degree is roughly forty thousand euros between travel costs, student accommodation and a three-thousand-euro contribution fee that is high by European standards as well as other expenses.

There is a hole in funding for third level institutions that needs to be filled – should it be by bringing in a graduate tax which will push students’ debt up by another twenty grand? Or increased aid in the form of grants and allowances footed by the taxpayer?

One size fits all?

Ever since fees were abolished over twenty years ago there has been a one size fits all when it comes to what a person should do upon finishing secondary school. A college education is accessible now – everyone who wants to go can go – regardless of their circumstances. A positive, universal thought you would imagine.

Not so, if you ask me. Even with free fees many people cannot afford to go to college or the costs that arise from it and quite frankly not everyone needs or should have to go to college.

If, for whatever reason, a person decides to drop out of a programme they are still liable to pay off any loans they may have taken out and often do not get any money already paid reimbursed. So, a load of debt with no piece of paper to show for it and believe it or not it gets worse.

Eventually, you do earn that illustrious piece of paper after three to four years but alas no job. That’s because you chose to study Philosophy or Ancient Civilisations which funnily enough are not subjects in high demand in today’s jobs market. Since the Great Recession of 2008, the world of employment has changed dramatically. It is a buyer’s market. Employers either need or want workers with specific, niche skills such as coding or being fluent in more than one language or SEO.

So, you either emigrate or take a job that you didn’t need any college course for or you end up on the live register. All the while that student debt prevents you from moving on in life whether it’s getting together a deposit for your first home or starting to make plans for your retirement through a pension.

It happened to me

That’s what happened to me I’m afraid. What was my passion growing up? Acting. Since the age of five, I dreamt of becoming a movie star and the first Irish woman to win the Best Actress Oscar. I thought it was my dream so therefore it would come true – right? Wrong.

After I did the Leaving Cert, I ended up taking a year out because quite frankly I applied to do so many things, I didn’t really know what to do and furthermore I didn’t have the resources to do any of them. So I ended up having to defer college for at least another year, get a job and figure out what it was I wanted to do.

I went back to my original love – Drama, and applied to study Theatre for a year at a College of Further Education in Cork. Now, the course indulged my interest in performing, I passed everything, got my certificate and met some great people but to this very day I have still not got an iota of work out of it.

All I was left with was over three thousand-euro worth of debt, no job prospects and a qualification no better than my Leaving Cert that I had got two years earlier.

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Is it worth it?

So, what is it exactly that I’m trying to say here? Well, it’s this: college nowadays is expensive and instead of burdening yourself with a heap of debt that will form a millstone around your neck with no great benefit ask yourself one question: Is it worth it?

This applies to everyone whether you’re a school-leaver, unemployed, want to progress in your chosen career or a mature student.

Before you apply for the course that you’d like to do, think about it and do some research: Can I afford it? Do I qualify for any financial aid and will it be enough? Is all this time, money and effort going to be worth it in the long run? What job/career will this programme lead to?

If the answer to any of these questions are in the negative, then consider going another route.

Even during the recession with a 15% unemployment rate, bosses were finding it hard to source people with the relevant tools to work in the growing digital, technology and engineering sectors. Imagine.

One of the reasons for this is that people thought that a passion meant a job instead of a job leading to an opportunity. Maybe it’s time for a rethink?

Laura Buckley is a 29-year-old writer from County Tipperary. You can follow her @BuckleyLaura on Twitter.

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Laura Buckley  / Writer

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