By Michael Shaw
Throughout high school, teachers, guidance counselors, parents, and even fellow peers all contribute to the rule that college is unequivocally the next step following graduation. Logically following this comes the idea that one must attend the most “prestigious” college or university possible in order to secure one’s standing in the world from a young age. Such pressures beget behaviors like cheating, and often even manifest themselves mentally in chronic stress. While college can undoubtedly provide one with opportunities to succeed that would otherwise be unavailable, research indicates that it is not in fact as vital as many claim. In fact, many might be better off not attending college.
One important consideration to take into account is the massive cost of college. The average American college student graduates with a significant amount of debt; the Project on Student Debt puts the average debt for the Class of 2011 at 27,200 dollars or 34,000 dollars if parents’ loans are factored in. In fact, this debt can be so bad that according to the Department of Education, 8.8 percent of students default on their loans within just two years after graduating. Most would agree that going to college is not worth the cost if one defaults on his or her loans within just a few years of graduating, before he or she even has the chance to gain the benefits of a college degree. Therefore, those not in an economic position to go to college might want to consider other options. That being said, there are significantly cheaper avenues, such as receiving financial aid, attending community college, or even taking classes online. However, the traditional 4-year institution might not be the best path for everyone.
Even if cost is not an issue, something else to consider is actually graduating college. A surprising number of students that enroll in a four year degree program do not end up completing that degree. Specifically, the American Council on Education Rates notes that 6 year graduation rates for B.A. students have fallen to 56 percent. As discussed above, these dropout rates could be due to the high costs associated with attending college, which force students to drop out before completing their degree. This theory is supported by Dana Goldstein of The Nation who writes that “nearly one in five [students] who drop out leave only after accumulating $20,000 in debt.” However, another explanation independent of cost is offered by ACT College Readiness Benchmark statistics, which reveal that 75% of ACT-tested high school students are not educationally prepared to succeed in entry level college courses. Such striking statistics indicate that a large number of high school graduates simply did not receive a quality of education on par with college level education, meaning attending a 4-year institution might not be the best option for them due to their initial disadvantage. Attending college evidently is not worth the costs if one drops out before receiving a degree.
Finally, one must consider the current labor market and its relation to college graduates. Jacques Steinberg of the New York Times says “Of the 30 jobs projected to grow at the fastest rate over the next decade in the United States, only seven typically require a bachelor’s degree.” This means that in the current US economy, jobs that do not require a college degree will be more abundant than those that do, meaning that going to college might turn out to be a superfluous decision. In fact, Richard Vedder of Ohio State University notes that even today, “about 17 million college graduates have jobs that do not require a college degree. Not only is that 11 percent or so of the total labor force…but, more relevantly, it constitutes well over 30 percent of the working college graduates in the U.S.” Therefore there is little guarantee that obtaining a degree will obtain one a job corresponding to that educational attainment, rendering the time and money sacrificed essentially useless for those who do not. In fact, many researchers note that going to college sacrifices several years of work experience that could help open advance in the labor market more than a college education would. Some have gone even further and suggested that one could actually gain more money in the long run by investing money in the stock market than by putting that same amount of money into a college education. Such conclusions, although certainly varying for each individual, do provide reason to perhaps consider alternatives to a college education, especially when looking at recent trends in the US labor market.
In high schools across the country seniors are frantic about where they will end up next fall. While college is undoubtedly a sound investment for many, for others it simply might not meet the expectations built up around it. Possible reasons include staggering student loan debt, low graduation rates, trends in the labor market, and perhaps more beneficial alternatives. Unfortunately, pressure from sources like parents, teachers, and peers renders many unable to peel away from societal pressure to attend college. College should remain an important part of the United States, but high school students should not be afraid to consider alternatives as well.
By Michael Shaw
Since the devastating attacks of September 11th, 2001, our nation has undergone extreme shifts in security, both domestically and on an international level. From the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has attempted to safeguard its citizens in any way possible. While these efforts undoubtedly make the United States safer in some regards, they have far-reaching implications for the entire world that are not always positive.
First, other countries are using the United States’ war on terror as an excuse to execute their own counter terror operations. The problem lies in the fact that these ostensible counter terror operations are in reality thinly veiled human rights violations. These countries use the United States’ actions in Afghanistan and Iraq as justification for oppression of their citizens. For example, an article written by the International Council on Human Policy concludes that Uzbekistan’s government “has linked the detention (and torture) of Muslim opponents to the threat posed by the Afghanistan-based Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, described by the United States as being linked to the al-Qaeda network.” Essentially, as part of its War on Terror, the United States classified the Islamic Movement in Uzbekistan as linked to al-Qaeda, and the Uzbek government is using this classification as a pretext to commit torture and other acts of oppression against Muslims who oppose the current government. Indeed, the Uzbek government’s actions have at some points surpassed those described by the article above; on May 13, 2005, in the city of Andijan, Uzbek government troops fired into a crowd of demonstrators protesting unjust arrests and trials of their fellow Uzbek citizens. The end result was 500 dead and 241 sent to prison. Following its established pattern, the Uzbek government insisted the massacre was carried out due to the protestors’ links to Islamic extremism, once again using the US war on terror as a pretext for violence.
Malaysia is another nation using the United States’ counter terror policies to enforce its own oppressive policies. The same article mentioned above notes that the Malaysian government has cited security threats when justifying its reinforcement of “the country’s Internal Security Act. This act, retained from the British colonial period, allows for detention without trial and has been used to imprison pro-democracy activists and opposition supporters.” In fact, the Prime Minister of Malaysia has explicitly revealed that this reinforcement of detention without trial for activists stems from the actions of “liberal democracies” like the United States. Putting up a façade of concern for national security, the Malaysian government extinguishes internal dissent by simply detaining its opponents.
Second, torture of suspected terrorists, as sanctioned by the United States government, sparks terrorist activity. Since the start of the War on Terror the United States has, controversially, carried out torture in places such as Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, a prison in Iraq. This harsh interrogation often ends up inciting terrorist activities because victims of the torture, along with those who hear of it, develop a negative sentiment towards the United States. Major Matthew Alexander, the head of an interrogation team in Iraq, explains “The reason why foreign fighters joined al-Qa’ida… was overwhelmingly because of abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and not Islamic ideology.” He says that when the United States government tries to espouse humans rights while simultaneously torturin suspects, it makes them appear hypocritical which “plays into the hands of al-Qaida”. While the United States uses torture to try to quell terrorism through the acquisition of valuable information regarding terrorists’ tactics, this very act can in fact backfire and create more terrorism. An article published by Brown University seconds Major Alexander’s claim. It reads “Iraqi security chiefs allege that the [conditions in these] U.S. prison actually strengthened Al Qaeda…and increased violence in 2010.” Therefore, United States policies surrounding detention and interrogation have in fact lead to higher recruitment rates for al-Qaeda and a higher rate of violence in Iraq, thus proving these policies to be counter productive. It should be noted that the US government has listened to negative public opinion surrounding the use of torture as a counter terror tactic and has accordingly made efforts to eliminate its use. However, the impacts of past policies can undoubtedly still be felt.
Just over ten years after the September 11th attacks, many are asking the question “Is the world a safer place now than it was a decade ago?” There is no simple answer to that question. Airport security has tightened and our southern border has been fortified, along with many other security enhancements. However, around the world some countries like Uzbekistan and Malaysia are using the United States’ War on Terror as a justification for violations of human rights. Elsewhere, al-Qaeda recruitment rates and insurgent violence in Iraq are rising due to torture carried out in the name of security. Though the United States faces countless concerns both domestically and internationally, it, along with other countries, must take into account the issues outlined in this article when devising security policies. Hopefully future policies will beget an increase in international human rights and a decrease in terrorist recruitment and violence, but for now nations around the globe still face problems stemming from September 11th.