You often hear that education is your ONLY key to success. Your parents would encourage you to finish college because higher education is the only path that you should take. But, what if you’re wrong? In this episode, Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen share their experiences and actual realizations about their college degrees and the specific schools they graduated from. Attending college for most people, especially the unprivileged, means taking different loans to pay for college. And even after graduating, their jobs will not pay the debts they incurred during their college years. Most people already had the mindset that it’s better to have a college degree than none. But is it a necessity? The decision of going to school or college will always end up with you. What do you want to do, what do you want to achieve, and what do you dream of? Tune in to learn what truly matters in life!
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Hope Deficits: Higher Education’s Dirty Little Secret
I was rummaging through my garage here in Los Angeles and I have a couple of secure file folders, like lockable file folders with old documents from childhood like birth certificates. I think my high school diploma and my college degree are in there. There was a bunch of random old documents in these lockboxes in my garage. I was going through old school files in there. When I say school files, they’re papers and stuff that my mom has kept at her house in Detroit. I’m rummaging through this file folder and I came across some old documents when I was applying to get into colleges in the ’90s.
I came across some documents from USC and my diploma from Columbia College, where I graduated from. I came across this acceptance letter from NYU from 1996 or 1997 and I remembered how much I wanted to go to NYU for film school. That’s something for you, dear reader, if you didn’t know this about Whitney and myself, we were both student filmmakers. She graduated from Emerson College in Boston and I graduated from Columbia College in Chicago.
Years later, when we got to know each other, we learned that we both really wanted to go to the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU and go to their Film program. I got accepted and I remember the one thing at the time that was the deciding factor why I didn’t want to go, it was the tuition. I did get accepted to Tisch School of the Arts, but I didn’t get a scholarship.
Back then in the ’90s, for a four-year bachelor’s degree in their Film program, it was going to be well over $100,000 in debt for me, and I thought, “I don’t know that I want to be 21 years old and be six figures in debt trying to be a filmmaker.” The plan was to be in New York, do film, and probably go out to LA. Life took a different turn because Columbia offered me money and I was like, “I’ll take your money. I’ll go to Chicago instead.”
This is really interesting timing because NYU played a huge role in my life in ways that I don’t know if I fully articulated, and it’s timely because I was just in New York City. I walked around the part of the NYU campus that I did a summer program at. The reason that I really wanted to go to NYU is because I went to a one-month summer filmmakers’ workshop for high school students that literally changed my life. I was passionate about filmmaking. Video has always been a big part of my life and I’m glad that it continues to, at least in our YouTube channel and TikTok.
I had to apply to this workshop and my parents were gracious enough to pay for it. There were maybe 100 kids, and we all lived in the dorms. This was our junior year of high school. It was going into senior year. It was that pivotal time where you’re figuring out what you want to do in your life and I was very clear that I wanted to do video or filmmaking. I got to this program and just fell deeply in love with Tisch.
I imagine the program is probably designed to get students interested in Tisch because a very high percentage of kids from that program applied to NYU and got in. I applied as well, but I got rejected. I was always a B student in high school and that was not going to cut it for NYU because it was so competitive, also SATs and all that other shit. Not to mention, is it called nepotism? Is that the term?
When you have a relative or someone you know who works for NYU and they get you in through the back channels, that’s nepotism.
That was definitely happening, especially with the kids in that program. I don’t remember any specifics, but I remember getting AOL chats with other people like, “Did you apply?” People are talking about who is getting in because of their connections. That’s going to tie into this conversation in a lot of ways. I was getting ready to leave New York, but I had flexibility in my timeline. I thought to myself, “Is there anything that I want to do before I leave?”Does anyone give a shit that I went to college? Click To Tweet
I was very fluid. I had met up with some friends. I achieved the main purpose that I had gone to the city, and I thought, “I could stay a little bit longer. It’s always nice to go over to Tisch because of how pivotal it was in my life.” I walked over there and I was walking around this particular part in Washington Square Park, which for those that don’t know, is that famous arch in the park with the fountain.
That’s where the dormitory I lived in for that month was based and the Tisch school building is right up the street. Washington Square Park was huge for me in developing emotionally, figuring out who I was, what I wanted to be and also the beginning of my journey as a vegan. I met a guy there who had been vegetarian his whole life and he was the main reason I decided to try going vegan myself. It was that moment in life where I experienced so many radical transformations.
I remember thinking that time was maybe more significant than my entire college experience at Emerson in a lot of ways, even though Emerson was great. I had a lot of great experiences there, but that month was just huge. I was like, “How is it possible that in such a short amount of time and something that probably to other people was so insignificant was so significant to me?” I was walking around that area, passing by the dorms and I looked in the windows. Jason and I also did this. I have a vlog I can dig up somewhere on the Eco-Vegan Gal YouTube channel.
I don’t know how we did it. We went into the lobby of that dormitory and it was almost exactly the same as I remember. I walked by it and Jason and I were not only reflecting on who I’ve become since that time and how my life has evolved in all these unique ways I could never have predicted then but also walking past all these other kids and there are the college students standing outside the building. I’m walking by all these kids and thinking to myself, “They’re each all in their own journey. Who knows what’s going on for them?”
I looked at a few people and I was like, “I wonder what they’re going through emotionally?” It’s so fascinating because college is such an intense time of our lives and all these decisions that we make, how that directs us, and how that impacts where we’re going to go. I wanted to bring that up in case we get completely off the topic of NYU, but I always wondered, similar to you, what my life would have been had I gone there. I didn’t get the chance because I didn’t get accepted and I was devastated because my identity was starting to get wrapped up in NYU.
I thought if I didn’t go to NYU, I would not become who I wanted to be. I would not have the chances, the exposure, all of these things that I put onto that school, when truly I got most, if not all, maybe even better at Emerson because that school was probably a better match for me. As I mentioned in the episode we did on 9/11 and how that was my freshman year of college, had I lived in New York City, who knows how that would’ve impacted me differently than it did in Boston, which already felt traumatic.
It’s interesting too, for you getting into this school and then making a decision out of financial choice, versus for me where I think Emerson and NYU are probably about the same. I had the privilege of my parents paying for it and they would have paid for NYU even if it was a financial stretch for them. You and I both got directed outside of NYU for different reasons, which is fascinating. Also, I want to make sure that we touch upon this idea of how college shapes us or doesn’t shape us.
I can’t remember, maybe it’s VICE, Rolling Stone, or GQ, but there’s a video of Rick Rubin, the famous music producer, going to his NYU dorm room after 40 years. It’s a fascinating video and him talking about meeting LL Cool J, RUN DMC, producing their records when he met Russell Simmons, and him being a student at NYU.
It’s interesting because not only is it cool to see him reflect on 40 years of the music business starting to produce records out of his dorm room, which is a trip and a half, but it piggybacks on what you were saying, which is this idea that I need to go to a specific college because I think it’s going to do something for me in terms of my identity, my career and my income. There are all of these attachments and these expectations of if I go to the right school and part of that lore. I’m sure there’s a list of super famous NYU graduates that we could pull up, but for me it was USC.
To me, it was like, “If you want to be a famous film director, you go to NYU, USC or Columbia University.” I went to Columbia College, which is a totally different thing. If you think about the directors who graduated from those three universities, it’s crazy. There’s a lore that draws you in to say, “I want to go where George Lucas and Rick Rubin went.” Consequently, because of this lore and mythology, these universities make tens of millions or maybe even hundreds of millions of dollars depending on the university because of the image and the lore and the mythology around it.
This ties into an article you sent me. There are two articles I want to talk about in The Wall Street Journal that we’ve set up with this conversation. One is A Generation of American Men Give Up on College. It talks about how the number of men at 2 and 4-year colleges and universities have fallen behind women in record levels, which is widening the education gap across the US.
It talks about how men are trailing female students in US colleges and universities across the entire country and it gets into a lot of the mentalities and fears around this. There’s so much uncertainty. They profile a few different young men in here from ages 18 to 23 in this article. Part of it apparently is the pandemic, the downturn in family finances, but also the fact that a lot of these young men that they’ve interviewed for this are talking about hopelessness and that so many of them don’t feel like they have a plan.
It talks about skyrocketing education costs have made college much riskier than it has in past generations and saddling students in six-figure debt with lower-paying careers. It also talks about social scientists that have been analyzing this. They cite distractions and obstacles to education that weigh more on boys and young men, including obsessive video game addiction, pornography, increased levels of fatherlessness, cases of overdiagnosis of boyhood restlessness, depression and related medications.
It’s super interesting because you get into a lot of these young men between 18 to 23, who are doing landscaping jobs for $500 a week, investing in crypto, or selling their music online. The big thing that I’m taking away from this is the sense of just how lost they feel. It gets into what they define as a hope deficit. These young men are saying that they feel hopeless and like, “What is the point in investing in my future when I can do things like social media, invest in crypto or sell my music online?” These young men are starting to feel like, “What is the point of getting into debt?”
The interesting thing about this and the reason that I didn’t go to NYU, is piggybacking on a second Wall Street Journal article on how students are feeling “Financially Hobbled for Life.” There are these elite Master’s degrees that don’t pay off. It says, “Columbia and other top universities push Master’s programs that fail to generate enough income and revenue for graduates to keep up with their multiple six-figure federal loans.” This is the big reason that I turned it down when I crunched the numbers and this was back in the 90s.
It talks about here and this is an article in 2021, in New York University, graduates with Master’s degrees borrowed a median of $116,000 and had an annual median income of $42,000 two years after graduating from the program. At Northwestern University, half of those Master’s degrees borrowed $148,000 or more and graduates only had a median income of $60,000 two years later. The University of Southern California borrowed a median of $124,000, and half of those graduates earn $50,000 or less over the same program.
It also talks about how no student loan interest rates are as high as 7.9%. There’s a guy named Patrick Clement, who is an MFA Film graduate from the Columbia program and he’s 41 years old. His student loan balance is $364,000 and to pay the bills, he teaches Film at a community college and runs an antique shop. There are so many factors of why people are choosing not to go to college, but a big factor is crippling debt. I can’t even imagine being in my early 40s with a Film degree and being $364,000 in debt. That, to me, feels like a stultifying amount of debt.You can still become who you want to be. Click To Tweet
Truth be told, when I graduated, I had about $15,000 to $20,000 worth of debt because I got so many scholarships to go to film school, but like you, I had the massive privilege of getting those scholarships. I busted my ass for those scholarships. You have an Ivy League degree, Columbia, NYU, Northwestern, USC, these are no joke schools, but to be out in the field making $40,000 and having that much fucking debt feels insane to me. Obviously, our financial situations and what we experienced in college were different, but it’s been making me reflect on, “Does anyone give a shit that I graduated college?”
When I was 21 and 22, other than my first two jobs doing production and copywriting in the advertising industry, I don’t think I ever had a recruiter or a potential boss ever ask me about my college experience. It makes me wonder. You invest all that money, all that time, you have maybe debt for your entire life, but does anyone give a shit in terms of recruiting or jobs? It is an important question and maybe that’s one of the big reasons why more and more men and young boys are saying, “Fuck it. I don’t want to go to college.”
It seems like it’s shifted a bit. I don’t know if it’s because there’s more awareness and conversation because I felt like I had to go to college and I wanted to. I don’t remember exactly why, but it felt like everybody else was going to college. Very few people in my high school, as far as I’m aware, did not go to college. My school is in a very small town and we always called it a private-public school because the structure of it felt a lot like a private school in a lot of ways.
One of the big perks of that was we had great teachers and good education. A lot of students were very well-prepped and encouraged to go to college and got into some great schools. It felt like that’s just what you do. Having a passion for the film industry and living in a small town in Massachusetts, it seemed to me that the way to get to Hollywood was to go to school, learn, make the connections and then work in the industry, but the more that you’re sharing this, my brain was not thinking about money.
That’s a privilege, first of all, because my parents took care of college for me. They also had to take out loans, but they never talked to me about it, which is another privilege. I think my parents decided that college was something they wanted my sister and I to have. We can go to any school we wanted. It didn’t come up. I was like, “These are the schools I’m interested in,” and my parents were like, “Okay,” and they figured it out. They didn’t bother getting me involved with it. I do know that there were some loan things involved, but they didn’t even burden me with where things stand.
For all I know, they’re probably still paying it off, but they’ve never asked me to contribute to that. That is one of the greatest gifts my parents have ever given me, to be honest, and every time I think about these things, I’m like, “If anything, I would love to feel more financially empowered so I could give back to my parents more,” but that’s a whole other note. That being the privilege of not having to think about money when it came to school was interesting because I wasn’t thinking, “I’m going to get this degree so I can make this amount of money to pay off the debt.”
I didn’t have to struggle in that way, but the one thing though with my parents is that they paid for that, but they did not pay for other things beyond high school. Basically, in college, I worked part-time while I was in school so that I could pay for whatever else I wanted to do. I’ve always been someone that worked to pay for entertainment and clothes. All of those things were up to me. I was financially motivated to pay for the things that I wanted to do. Once I graduated college, I was completely on my own.
I had to figure that all out, but similar to how I am now, it was like, “How much money do I need to make to pay the bills and what do I really enjoy doing?” What’s interesting about that is a lot of the things that I ended up doing didn’t have that much to do with college. No one’s been like, “You went to Emerson College and you graduated with a Film degree?” It’s more like, “Where did you go to school?” They’re curious. Every once in a while, there’s some alumni connection.
In LA and Hollywood, they call it the Emerson Mafia because Emerson College has such a big prevalence in Los Angeles, almost as much as NYU, USC, UCLA. You mentioned those schools and Emerson’s up there too. Maybe not as much when you applied to school, but Emerson’s worked its way up in that film production college notoriety. Everybody would talk about being part of the Emerson Mafia, but when I got to LA, it wasn’t like, “I got this job because I went to Emerson.” What did help me was working for Apple. I got the job because I worked for Apple. People were very impressed by that.
I think people care more that I worked for Apple than they do about where I went to school because of where Apple stands. I got my job at Apple, and that had nothing to do with my Emerson degree. Most of the film production jobs I got were because of connections. That was one thing I didn’t realize fully until I was done with college. That working in Hollywood, whether it’s actual Hollywood, California or Hollywood anywhere else in the world where it has its role as the industry, is so much about connections.
It’s similar to nepotism in that way. In fact, I saw a TikTok making fun of the stereotypical people that work on a production. They’re all connected to one another. If you don’t have connections, you’re out of luck. You could have a great degree, but when it comes to getting a job, a lot of jobs in that industry are dominated by connections that people have.
When I first came out to LA, I remember one of the first things that may be a casting director told me. She said, “It’s not about who you know, it’s who knows you,” and I thought, “That’s an interesting spin.” When I was doing personal cheffing and nutritional support for different celebrities, I started to notice that after working on multiple movies and productions, I would see the same people and be like, “There’s Lori. There’s Patrick. There’s Jeannie. She does the hair and makeup.” To your point, people trust each other, they’re familiar with each other and there’s a rapport.
It’s a perpetuating machine. You get in with a certain group and you see the same people on different productions. I’ve talked to other friends and they’re like, “You see the same crew and the same people.” I sometimes laugh when I’ve seen job applications and they will ask, “What was your GPA in college?” and my response when I look at applications are, “Why the fuck do you care? I graduated college 21 years ago. Does anyone give a rat’s ass about my GPA?” but at the time when I was 20 or 21 years old, it’s like, “I need to graduate with a 4.0.” No one has ever cared.
Going back to the ego and the identity that you brought up in the beginning, it’s like, “Why do we make these things to be so monumentally important as young people?” In my experience, I came to realize in adulthood that no one cares and no one asks, but at the time, it felt like the most important thing ever. SATs, ACTs, GPA and recommendation letters. I suppose they serve a purpose to get you to that next tier of the video game of life, but literally, when you’re out in the adult world, no one’s ever asked me in a professional capacity what my GPA was or what my SATs were ever.
Even asking where you went to school is more of a conversation starter and part of me is like, “You could just lie. No one’s going to know whether you did or did not go there. How many people would care enough to double-check that?” College mattered when Facebook was exclusive to college students and you would find people that you went to school or high school with, but aside from that, you’re right. There are very few reasons. To back up the finances of it, it does seem nuts.
Unfortunately, money does play a big role. It plays a big role in facilities and in hiring the right teachers. All of these teachers got to get paid well and they probably want to be associated with a good school, so they’re going to be attracted to the nicer schools and the higher wages. A lot of the less expensive schools don’t have that privilege. They don’t have the money to pay for all the things that go along with the glitz and glamour that some of these nicer colleges and universities have.
When you examine it, there’s a hell of a lot of privilege involved. How much do that privilege and those that glitz and glamour or the connections matter to you if you know out in the real world, you could go and network your way to reach a lot of these people? This is the big thing that I’ve noticed through a lot of my work. If you want to reach people, you can get there. You just have to be incredibly persistent.Be honest. It is one of life’s greatest gifts. Click To Tweet
If we look at the system, it would require so much education, in general, for people to even recognize that school might not be worth the money. I don’t think that system is fully set up. It’s easy for me to say like, “I had a great time in college. I’m glad I went,” but I do not have the burden of the debt. I can’t really speak on it in that sense, aside from acknowledging my privilege and the ignorance that comes along with that, but I was in that system and maybe my parents were too.
It’d be interesting to talk to my parents about this and maybe I will, like, “How do they feel being parents and feeling all the pressure to have your kids go to a good school? Why do the parents care what school you go to?” The parents are conditioned into believing, “If my kid doesn’t get into this school, then they won’t have the life of their dreams.” I know this isn’t just about the film industry, but there’s plenty of filmmakers that are incredibly successful.
Isn’t Quentin Tarantino one, where he didn’t go to film school? What is it that makes Quentin Tarantino successful? I don’t know exactly, but he’s got a very specific way of making movies. He’s made the right connections. He’s been consistent and persistent. A lot of those things factor into this. I know people in the film industry that their current career they’re incredibly successful in is not what they studied in school or decided to pursue. They fell into it, learned as they went along and made the right connections, etc.
What we might see shift is because there are so many careers online and the world has opened up its eyes to remote living, which includes remote learning and remote working, there is hopefully going to be a big shift because along with remote learning, think of the amount of expenses that are saved. If a kid wants to do their entire college education from their room at home, they don’t need to stay in a dorm room and eat all the food there. They don’t need to do all of the things and go to the classes. The teachers get paid virtually.
My only hesitation there is what college does offer is that rite of passage experience. Going back to what I said about my one month at NYU and how much that shaped me, that was very little to do with the education I got there. I will say that the program I went to at Tisch was extraordinary. The things I learned there set me up for an awareness of how to make films and videos that when I got to college at Emerson, I was way ahead of other students there just in one month. That program was phenomenal, but most of the impact that program had on me was the experience of being there.
The experience of being in a city that I didn’t live in, away from my parents and surrounded by all these kids I didn’t know. Living in a dormitory and basically feeling like a grown-up for the first time in my life. All the shock that comes with it, all of the relationships I developed there, and all of the emotional processing I went through. When I think of my time in college, it was very similar in that sense where I learned a lot and I got a degree. We’re talking now about the value of that degree versus the value of the experience that you get in college.
You cannot experience that online and that ties into so much of what we talk about here in terms of how online life is impacting our mental health. What I’m concerned about is that online living, working, and studying and everything along with it like socializing have its perks. It saves a ton of money. Maybe it makes your life easier in some ways, but the downside is you don’t get those in-person experiences that you get at school. It sounds like you chose a college experience that was more affordable but still allowed you to have that enrichment of being at a four-year school. Is that correct? Do you feel like the impact of that shaped your life in significant ways?
Absolutely. It was a big city away from Detroit. Detroit’s a big city, but to me, it came down to Chicago, New York and LA. Part of it was, of course, a financial decision, but more so I wanted to immerse myself in a city that had a lot of cultural opportunities that I could immerse myself in. When I went to Chicago and I lived there for three and a half years, I was singing in a band. I was doing improv comedy. I was studying filmmaking. I got into acting. It was the food, the clubs in Chicago and it was the amazing bands I could go see.
The school was a big component, but I knew that at that age, in my late teens or early twenties, I wanted to submerge myself in as many stimulating cultural environments as possible. I have some great memories. The other part of it too, was I knew that I wanted to focus on my art. I wanted to focus on creative risk-taking and those experiential elements that I felt were, not lacking in Detroit, but you live twenty years in a place and you’re like, “I need to get the hell out of here. I need some other experiences.” Although USC was an exception, the typical going to Sunday football games and pep rallies or joining a fraternity. I didn’t care about any of those things. I wanted the culture, the creativity and the stimulation. I wanted to be pushing myself in ways I hadn’t pushed myself before.
To back up what you said, the school portion was just a part of it. I wanted the immersion. I wanted to get uncomfortable by being in a different city and going, “I don’t fucking know anyone. Where the hell am I? I got to surrender to the fact that I didn’t know anyone. I’m going to meet a bunch of new people and end up in places I can’t even imagine.”
It’s cool that we’re talking about this because as I’m preparing to leave LA after many years, there’s been a fear in me as an aside conversation of like, “I’m going to have to start over somewhere and meet new people.” Now that we’re talking about this, there’s an excitement that comes along with that. Maybe it will be harder now in my early 40s than it was in my early twenties.
Maybe or maybe not. I don’t know, but that was an exciting time to go somewhere brand-new and have a completely blank slate. Maybe that’s one of the big draws. Not just going to college, leaving your hometown and going somewhere new, but relocating, in general, is the idea that we have an opportunity to start a new chapter and have this proverbial blank slate, to begin with. It’s scary, but it’s also exciting.
Also thinking more about what it is that you want now, what it is that you want in the future, how is what you want shaped by the past and have deeper conversations as best you can with your teachers, parents or with your kids. It’s almost like, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we are encouraged more to develop our five-year plan when we’re a junior? Why is this school important to you?” and have these open and vulnerable conversations about these things because maybe a lot of kids and parents would realize that it’s not that important to them. Maybe there’s another way that they can get that enrichment.
I’m sure there are so many things involved and even the work environment too. Working a job at Apple, it felt like college in a lot of ways. I made a ton of friends while I was there. We were learning from each other, partying, working together and collaborating on things. My time at Apple was awesome for that reason. I got a lot out of that almost as much as I did from school. Granted that you’re not living together and all of the other things that come along with it, but maybe there’s a way that you can get what’s important to you is my point and then do an online degree in addition to that so you got the best of both worlds.
Maybe there’s more of a hybrid involvement here. I think it’s tricky because there’s so much money involved. As we’ve seen with documentaries that have covered the college admission scandals, they benefit from people going to school there. They make so much money from it, so it’s in their benefit to convince you that going to this school is the key to your future. It’s a bit of brainwashing in that sense.
That’s also when I pause and think about the NYU program. If I were to guess, that’s probably why they have that program. NYU probably thought, “How do we get more kids to apply to our school? How do we find good kids for our school? Why don’t we put together a summer program?” They charged us to take the summer program. They are encouraging us to go. We have to spend all this money. We’re doing all these elaborate things. We’re immersed in the NYU world. You’re going to walk away thinking, “NYU is amazing. I need to go to school here,” and it worked out for them.
It’s interesting to think about it in that light, which I’ve never reflected on before, but at the same time, just because somebody is trying to manipulate you in a way, it doesn’t mean that it’s all bad. For me, that was a pivotal time in my life and I’m so grateful for it. I don’t feel any negativity about it and I’m also glad I got a taste of what it was like to be at NYU because I didn’t get to go there. It’s obviously not an easy thing.
It’s more about acknowledging the fact that things aren’t always what they seem and sometimes the things that we don’t have the privilege of experiencing are not that important to us. In both of our cases, you and I dreamed of going to NYU, and we didn’t go for our separate reasons, but I’m not sitting here sad for the rest of my life. I was a senior in high school, thinking that was my whole life, but I got over it and realized it didn’t matter that much anyways.Push yourself in ways you hadn't pushed yourself before. Be determined because you have to be incredibly persistent to be successful. Click To Tweet
Part of what’s interesting about the college admission scandals, I think that’s more about the parents than the kids. If you watch some of those documentaries, it reflects more that the parents feel it’s so important for their kids to go to these schools that they will literally spend a shit ton of money to get their kids in in some backdoor way just so that they can brag that their kids go to a certain school. Do the kids want that badly?
In most ways, to my understanding, NYU and Emerson are so similar because all the kids that I know at NYU did not seem any happier getting anything more out of it, and having any better careers than me. In fact, sometimes they were envious of the things I got to do at Emerson because of the way Emerson was set up. I think that would be an important thing. Going to school in general is a privilege. It’s very important that we touch upon that.
Some people in this article do not go to school because they can’t afford it or they’re not located near it. There are so many privileges involved with just getting there in the first place. That’s not something that I recognized because I had the privilege of not having to face that issue. Because I had that ignorance, I want us to make it clear that anyone who got to go to school, any school, is privileged on so many levels.
I think it comes down to young people and parents asking really good questions in the sense of, “Do I expect that going to NYU, Columbia, USC, or an Ivy League school is going to help me jump social classes? Might I move up from a lower-income to a middle-class or upper-middle-class? Might I be secretly thinking I’m going to get rich? Might I be as a parent thinking that the status and the success of my child is a reflection of my status and my success?”
We can’t downplay the ego and the narcissism that exists in the idea of you going to a certain school, you working for a certain company and people regard you differently. At the apex of money and classism, we’re talking about social hierarchy. It’s the idea that, “If I go to a certain school, get a certain education, have a name attached next to my name on a resume, I expect that will get me better, higher value and higher-paying opportunities.” We can succinctly distill this argument into social interactions.
It goes back to reality and what is breaking the bubble for thousands of people. One of the craziest parts of the second article we mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, is this gentleman named Matt Black. He graduated from Columbia University in 2015 with an MFA in Film and $233,000 in federal loans. He signed up for an income-based repayment plan and with interest, his current balance stands at $331,000. He’s a 36-year-old writer and producer in LA and grew up in a lower-middle-class family in Oklahoma.
He earned $60,000 in a good year and less than half of $30,000 in a dry stretch. He said, “The faculty at Columbia was stellar,” but he blames the school for his “calamitous financial situation.” Matt Black says, “We were told by the establishment our whole lives that this is the way to jump social classes.” He said of getting an Ivy League education. Instead, he feels such goals as marriage, having children, and owning a home are completely out of reach.
During a car ride with three friends who graduated from the same field program, Mr. Black said they calculated that they collectively owed $1.5 million in loans. He said, “We are financially hobbled for life. That’s the ongoing joke.” More than 800 people applied this year for 72 spots in the Columbia Film MFA program, which can total over $300,000 for tuition fees, rent and living expenses. Students aspire to join the lineage of successful alumni who include Kathryn Bigelow, Director of The Hurt Locker, and Jennifer Lee, Screenwriter and Director of Frozen.
I say all this because it’s illusion versus reality. You think you’re going to go to an Ivy League school, get an MFA, you’re going to jump social classes, make a shit ton of money, and have all this notoriety, but then you find yourself like Matt Black making $30,000 a year sometimes. That’s fucking crazy. It’s the mystique like I said, “I want to be like Kathryn Bigelow. I want to be like George Lucas,” but the reality for most people is that’s not the reality. It makes me wonder about the financial machine of the education system.
I’m not saying to anyone reading, “Don’t get an education.” I’m glad I went to college, but at this moment in 2021, I have to question the necessity of doing it depending on what you want. If you don’t know what you want or you have an expectation that you’re going to make a shit ton of money or jump social classes, you’re probably, statistically speaking, going to be disappointed when the reality hits.
I’m not saying don’t do it, but I think it’s really important to temper your expectations if you’re going to do something like this and be hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and maybe never pay it off your entire life. If you’re 40 years old and hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, who the hell knows if you’ll ever pay it off? It’s scary. You got to know what you want and it’s hard to know what you want.
At this age, I sometimes question what the hell I want, but especially if you’re about to make a financial commitment like that, it can seem stultifying. If you want to make content now, as pedantic as it is to say, you can probably take a lot less expensive online classes in film and video making and get yourself an iPhone 13 Pro with cinema mode and just go fucking do it. I know we’re talking about film a lot, but you can produce music out of your fricking closet now. It’s not like it was in the ’90s.
When you and I were in college, it was like, “If I want to be a music producer, a filmmaker, or an artist, for the most part, I need to go and do it because I can’t spend $200,000 on a non-linear avid editing machine. I can’t just get that,” but now in 2021, get Final Cut Pro, get Logic Pro, go to Guitar Center and buy some recording equipment or get a fucking iPhone.
The rules of the game have changed so drastically. I think that’s one big reason why a lot of young people are like, “Fuck it. I’m not going to college. I can get all the equipment and education I need and do it for a lot cheaper,” which I think that’s ultimately a good thing. It gives people options and financial freedom to do it their way. We’re not saying we’re anti-college or pro-college, but I think each person has to get clear about what they want.
We’re always curious about your thoughts too. Did you go to college? Did you have a good experience? Are you in a shit ton of debt? Do you regret it? Are you happy you did it? We’re curious to know, so shoot us an email. It’s [email protected]. You can also leave us a comment in our show notes and transcripts and also shoot us a direct message on all of the social media platforms. We also have a great YouTube channel. If you’re reading this and you want to see our physical reactions and our actual live discussion, please subscribe to our YouTube channel.
I got exciting news on that. Thanks to the support from some of our audience, we crossed the threshold to have a username on YouTube finally. We only had to get 100 subscribers, but it took us some time to get there. We are now officially YouTube.com/Wellevatr, which was one of those moments that you’re like, “I got it. I got to that point.” Now it’s a little bit easier to find us, and I’ve been catching up. I was delayed for a bit with making videos, but now I’ve been posting almost one every day.
We’d love your feedback on that, if you comment on there, and give it a thumbs up, especially to negate the lovely person who enjoys giving a thumbs down to every single one of our videos. We love any positive support that we get. I have to say, I still reflect on that person. Whoever it is that is determined to give every single one of our videos a thumbs down, watching our videos, they must care enough about us that they will take the time to thumbs down every single one. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. They are giving us feedback in an interesting way. I’ll put it that way.
If you would like to give us more positive feedback, I will say that we do respond better to positive feedback and constructive criticism. If you have suggestions and requests, all of that, we love to hear it. We love hearing from you altogether, so check out YouTube. Maybe one day, we’ll get back into TikTok because we have our other show, This Hits The Spot. We’re trying to do a lot for you because we appreciate you truly. It brings us joy to see the audience base for the show grow, and if there’s ever anything that you’re particularly interested in, we’re here to listen. Thanks so much for reading. We’ll be back again with another episode!
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- A Generation of American Men Give Up on College
- Financially Hobbled for Life: The Elite Masters Degrees That Don’t Pay Off
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