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Education in the Media, Guest Posts, Philosophical Meanderings

Is College Worth it? Guest Post by Mike Newman

This question about the value of college in today’s faltering economy seems to be a popular question that has been floating around the blogosphere lately. For me it has been a question floating in my mind since graduating from college in 2004, primarily because my college experience was very lackluster to say the least.
I went to college to improve my chances for success in life, however my “higher education” did the exact opposite. While in school I was treated more like a customer than a student. I was simply a cog in the machine sent through the conveyor belt of the diploma mill. I graduated college with a futile education, a worthless piece of paper, and a mountain of student loan debt. College definitely didn’t prepare me for the real world like I naively believed it was supposed to do. It turned me into a debt slave and greatly hindered my chances to live the American Dream. Sadly, millions of other Americans are in a similar boat.
In order to get myself out of this damn boat, I have had to live an unconventional life since graduating from college. It’s been one hell of a struggle. I’ve basically had to live off the grid and teach myself how to be a documentary filmmaker, all with the hope that I can use my self-taught knowledge to get myself out of this deep, deep hole I’m stuck in. This year the stars finally aligned in my favor and I now find myself working on a feature documentary about the need for higher education reform in this country. It’s titled The Elephant on Campus. My goal with this movie is to raise awareness about the need for reform, inspire change, give people like me a voice, and hopefully help prevent others from falling into the trap I fell into by believing the myth that college is the only path to success.
Instead of telling our kids that they must go to college, we should be providing them with a wide range of options that include apprenticeships, mentorships, and other real-life experiences. It’s time to acknowledge that forcing young adults to sit in classrooms and listen to pompous, indifferent professors spew arcane, irrelevant knowledge isn’t an efficient and effective way to learn how to be successful in today’s real world.
The ivory tower that once loomed high above our nation is crumbling and the sooner people realize it needs fixed the better off our nation will be for generations to come.  Of course this is no small task. One of the most eye-opening things I’ve learned since I started shooting this documentary is that higher education is, in many ways, a sacred institution with a delusional belief system similar to organized religion. Telling people that higher education is broken is a lot like telling Christians that Jesus isn’t real. It will take nothing less than a monumental paradigm shift in the way Americans think about higher education. It has slowly started to happen and I hope I can do my part of “adding fuel to the fire” by making this documentary.
Here’s a teaser video:

How would you like to see higher education be reformed and what experience in your life best prepared you for adult life?


Michael Newman has been a self-taught DIY filmmaker for over 10 years. He works as a one-man-band out of necessity, not b/c he wants to. He has created more than 50 shorts and 4 features, mostly in the genres of comedy, documentary, and avant-garde [some of this no-budget work can be seen here]. The Elephant on Campus is his first social issue documentary. He’s currently in production on 2 other feature DIY documentaries. His work has been broadcasted on MTV Italy, Comedy Central, and the Independent Film Channel. He was inspired to become a filmmaker when he randomly picked up a video camera his sophomore year in college, taped his drunken friends, and discovered the closest thing to a personal calling that he has ever experienced. 


5 thoughts on “Is College Worth it? Guest Post by Mike Newman

  1. Our OWS working group just came up with a “Education Revolution Bill of Rights.” Please join in and help us craft it:

    Posted by Elly Faden (@EllyFaden) | October 25, 2011, 1:36 am
  2. Michael, I’m excited about The Elephant on Campus. Thank you for speaking up here. Higher education’s claim to specialized training and knowledge is obviously being challenged at every side, and its sense of moral purpose…well, that too is becoming increasingly indefensible. We await you.


    Posted by Kirsten | October 25, 2011, 7:26 am
  3. Mike,

    Thanks for your perspective. I agree with much that you have said. I do not see education as the key factor in the mix of Americana that seems to keep every citizen firmly in their socioeconomic place. The dream of Edutopia is but one of several American Myths that most of us must (unfortunately) study in the process of obtaining a ‘higher education’ in order to be able to recognize reality – the majority will incur horrific financial debt in the process.

    I am currently, and in all likelihood will wind up in my waning years, in nearly the same position as my parents. Do you find you are in the same or similar situation as your own parents?

    Wishing you the best of luck in your endeavors,


    Posted by Brent Snavely | October 25, 2011, 7:26 am
  4. Thanks Brent and Kristin!

    Right now I’m in a worse position than my parents b/c of my student loan debt. I hope this documentary can lead me down a path to change this. They didn’t go to college and have done well for themselves. Unfortunately, they believed the myth that college was the best path for me and pushed me down that path without really understanding the consequences it might have.

    Posted by pnutfilms | October 25, 2011, 12:07 pm
  5. I am concerned with the notion however, that individuals, who either think of college as a socioeconomic standing or who think not going to college is a better way to prosperity have it calculated rightly. I suppose, the only problem that I see with going to college, is the expectation that college must somehow relate to our economic value. Just as it is in middle and high school, except now instead of being forced into attending a factory model… adults are somehow “tricked” into thinking that college = better jobs and more money.

    I did not attend college or graduate school in order to get a better job. I recognize the economic advantage of attending college (in terms of its possibility to receiving a better job), but I did not go to college on this notion. I want to two liberal arts colleges, which intrinsically suggest that it will be harder to get a good paying job with this degree, but also, that your education worth would be your own and that the real advantage to this type of learning environment, is the instilling of learning as a life long process.

    I think a mindset that starts from the platform that college must somehow tie to our economic worth, is viewing the benefits of college completely inappropriately. I am a life-long learner, who is very thankful for the opportunity to study in an environment that enhanced that ability and desire. All of the alternatives you mentioned can be enacted within the college setting, but don’t necessarily have to. However, I think the shift in the paradigm about what college is and why it exists needs to change…rather than the question of its worth attending. Is it worth attending? For learning purposes..I believe its excellent (though for many state and large research universities, I understand the learning is not as critical and far more high-school-esque)…for economic purposes…that can be debated. Why we must do…is get back to the root of learning…understanding that as the central placement of colleges and universities and that any economic benefit is merely a minor bi-product of that experience.

    Posted by caseykcaronna | October 28, 2011, 12:00 pm

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