My Higher Education Bubble

In this review of Glenn Reynolds’s The Higher Education Bubble, I had to slap my own hand every time the urge to write some of my own college experiences into it surfaced. There was just no way to do that and get it in under the word limit.

High school was a problem, you could say. It was so tedious it amounted to a prison. Upon turning 16, I informed my father that I was planning on exercising my legal right to drop out. Dad could tell I wasn’t bluffing. He asked me to hold off on that for 24 hours, went down the the school and brokered a deal with a guidance counselor whereby I could start going to college straight away.

I was a sophomore at Stadium High School, the location where the movie Ten Things I Hate About You was shot. For the next two-and-a-half years, your young diarist took advantage of Washington State’s Running Start program and went to Tacoma Community College. I graduated from both high school and community college in the same year, then spent a couple of aimless can-kicking years.

There are two stories I can point to to explain why I finally went back to college.

One, I took a temp job working in a flash freezing plant in Lynden. I spent 8 hours a day watching frozen fish fall into a box. For mental stimulation breaks, I would get somebody to spell me, go over to the wet part of the plant and use a wet-dry vac to vacuum fish scales off the gears of the conveyor belt. I had finally found something more tedious than high school.

Two, Grandma Bailey, who was obsessed that her descendants be college grads, suckered me into promising to get a four-year degree. (“Suckered” because I assumed that if I did what she dearly wanted, she would help me out a bit financially. Yeah, no such luck.)

I went to Trinity Western University just up over the border in British Columbia. For one semester, I lived in the campus dorms. Then I commuted, which was great fun when 9/11 rolled around. I got boxed into majoring in biblical studies, the value of which I will come back to in a minute.

The value of a college education to me at the time was that it gave me permission to fail as a writer. The first several years in the business are rough and most people rightly look at the long hard slog that it would take to make it and decide to do something else. I might have done the same but I could say to myself, “Hey, I’m still in college. This is the night job.”

That redounded to my long-term economic benefit and writing surely helped to pay the tuition bills. There was a lot of scraping and hustling, sure, but I managed to bankroll it as I went. My policy at the time, which Reynolds would surely approve of, was not one penny of debt. If I recall rightly, I delayed getting a credit card until after graduation.

The cash value of my degree has been a lot more than I assumed it would be. That’s mostly due to the fact that I did not put it toward its intended use. Biblical studies majors become pastors, translators or professors of biblical studies — after more schooling and more debt.

All of those jobs pay, on average, peanuts. However, they do assure me that the promised paradisaical pensions are out of this world.

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