(I sometimes post some of my correspondence on my blogs, if it's interesting or useful to other people. This seemed to fit the bill.)
my adviser, I was hoping you could advise me :)
I am struggling with the increase in tuition and what is
needed for rent. I've been applying for scholarships and trying to find a
job. I want to stay in school and accomplish something in life. I have
family and friends that tell me to quit and get a "real" job, but that
is why I am in school, to better myself, to help others who want to succeed
and encourage people to make a change to preserve the world instead of
I need direction because I have none, not many people I
know have graduated a four-year program, let alone are doing something to
preserve the environment.
It is a dream to graduate from Unity
College and I'm now wondering if its even a possibility. I'm not afraid to
work for it, I just don't what to do.
thank you for your time,
Good. We’re ready to think things through properly.
up, one purpose of a four-year degree is to train leaders to solve
complicated, convoluted problems. You seem to have a private personal
complicated convoluted problem that is something like “WTF do I do with
my life?” Am I right? Is there a better way to put it? Try to nail it
for me. I’m serious here. Get to the bottom of things. Don’t hold back.
Be a good critical thinker.
If that’s the root problem,
“WTF do I do with my life?”, or something like it, then one solution to
the problem is “Get a four-year degree and get a good job and a serious
career.” There are other equally good solutions, like, “Drop out and
become a lotus-eating Zen master” or “Join the marines and see the
world.” As a college professor of long experience advising
undergraduates, I am agnostic on which solutions are best. It’s your
life, after all. Who am I to say what you should do? What I want out of
the deal are willing students who are motivated to learn, so your
choices must be freely made.
It’s important to also
note that some of these other solutions are WAY cheaper than a four-year
college degree. Like, the marines will actually pay you to see the
world. In the interest of full and fair disclosure, I also have to say
that it’s possible to have a great career without even getting a college
degree. If you’re Steve Jobs, that is, or someone creative and driven
like he was. Most people aren’t, so they take a degree to make up for
If you put your thinking cap on and work from the
“WFT.?” question and eventually do get to the solution of “Get a
four-year degree and get a good job and a serious career,” then it
naturally follows that another decision must then be made: “Where to go
Unity College is one place to go to school, but only one of many, and middle-of-the-road expensive. Why pick Unity?
One answer is that Unity College is an acknowledged leader in a thing called the "sustainability movement” and has been for over a decade
now, since the late 1990s, in fact. This is a very broad and
hard-to-define movement, but it exists, and can certainly be an
environment where a person can have a serious interesting career helping
to solve some very difficult problems like climate change or
biodiversity loss. So coming to Unity can definitely help you join the
sustainability movement, if that is what you really, really want to do.
that these environmental problems are not very well understood by the
majority of people. The average person, even someone who had a decent
education, if given the exhortation “join the sustainability movement to
help solve climate change” would be very confused, and one response
they might have to that confusion would be that this is bad advice and
they might then tell you so. This is I think where many students'
friends and families who tell them to go to a “real” college and to get a
“real job” are coming from. They simply don’t understand that thousands
and thousands of people have interesting, well-paid, real jobs solving
climate change in the sustainability movement or working with
biodiversity protection. But they do.
Me, for instance. I have one such job. So does my wife. And we’re not doing too badly.
at this point it’s important to note that you could have a very good
and even socially redeeming carer going to some other college and
becoming, say, a lawyer, an accountant, or a business professional. Or
“join the marines and see the world.” See, we’re back to square one.
it’s certainly possible to go to a four-year second tier state-run
college and get a degree in accounting or business for much less than
the Unity College degree. To make it yet more complicated, you could
even go get that degree and graduate and join the sustainability
movement. There’s no law to say you can’t. So, for instance, you could
get a plain Jane four-year accounting degree for less than $40 K from
East Overshoe State College in upstate New Guernsey, and then go to work
for a solar PV installation firm organizing finance for household solar
installations, and in a lifetime’s work making several hundred such
installations happen, getting paid pretty well for this service, and
when all is said and done, who would be able to say say that you
wouldn’t have contributed as much if not more to solving climate change
than, say, a fat old professor of Sustainable Energy?
No-one, that’s who.
only thing that would be required to go down this other road is that
you find your own ways to think about the sustainability movement and
climate change. This is because they aren’t going to cover that in the
curriculum at East Overshoe State. Not in any organized way. They may
have the classes on the books, but they won’t be "joined up” in any way
that makes sense. Not right now, at least. In twenty years they will be,
and all boring old accountants graduating East Overshoe and all the
hundreds if not thousands of other places like it will be made to take
courses in climate change and renewable energy technology. That’s what
society will need, and so that’s what will happen. But not right now,
not right away.
Whereas at Unity College they will be
joined up and they would make sense. (Not necessarily right away, but
eventually, after a semester or two or three.) This is probably what we
mean by “interdisciplinary" or “transdisciplinary” sustainability
studies: that the ideas with which we work are joined-up, organized and
connected and function across the traditional disciplines, which are
rapidly being made obsolete by the demands of the marketplace for ideas.
This is what we do at Unity College and we do it particularly well if
you’re willing to pay attention.
(Note that not all of
the students in all of the classes you’ve been in so far are paying
attention. If they’re lazy students, or drunk, or smoking weed, they
probably don’t know what a good sustainability education they’re
getting, and so some UC students will add to the confusion by not being
aware of their own situation. Don’t be like them. You can’t afford it,
for one. But for another, it’s a very silly way to be in this world.
Education is often wasted on the young.)
complications and convolutions: If you went to Flagship State University
instead, it’s possible and even likely that you could get a half-way
decent joined-upsustainability education for about the same price as UC,
or even a bit less. Most of the big state colleges, like UMaine Orono,
by now have such programs. I’d like to think that they aren’t quite as
thought-out and joined up as the Unity degree, but I’m a little biased,
and some of them probably are pretty well organized by this point.
to summarize: If, after doing all this thinking you decide that you
want a career solving climate change or biodiversity loss, then you’ll
almost certainly need a four-year degree, and by all means Unity College
is a good choice, but not the only choice at this point. If you decide
you want to go someplace else, just tell me and we’ll think it through
and find you a place to go.
Now the housing problem.
I’m going to say right off the bat without even looking at things
properly that most housing problems are in fact budget problems. If they
were not, all students would be living in ten-thousand square foot
MacMansions with poolside bars, right?
are always solvable. They require some accounting skill, and, when
they’re college budget problems they require some knowledge of the
federal financial aid system. But they are solvable. The way to begin is
to list all the expenses and income. I would go monthly since that’s
the way bills tend to appear in the mail: list all the monthly expenses
required. (Some annual expenses or annual income will need to be divided
by 12 to make them monthly.)
Make a two column list “Monthly Expenses for my College Degree.” You could use Excel or paper and pencil. Here’s an example.
Electric bill $100
Car payment $150
Car insurance $50
Etc, etc. Leave tuition out, for now.
you get to the bottom of the list and have listed everything and added
it up, make another list: "Monthly Income for my College Degree.”
This second list should look like something this:
Student loan $1000
(divided by 12)
Part-time job $800
Summer full time job $700
(divided by 12)
This will be likely a much shorter list. Unfortunately.
If after you do both lists, income is greater than expenses, then you are probably OK, at least for now.
expenses are greater than income, then we have to add income or reduce
expenses. More likely, we reduce expenses. Break it down and work on one
item at a time, but don’t forget that some items are joined together.
So rent might be more expensive in Unity, Maine, but you wouldn’t
perhaps need to have a nice car if you could walk or bike to school
until the snow flies. An old beater might do. Or you might find cheaper
rent in Waterville, but need a better and more fuel-efficient car to
exploit this. Remember, nothing on the expenses list is sacred, not if
you’re serious about your goal. (Except maybe food.) Do you really need a
$100/month cell phone when a $14 one would do? And so on. More than
likely your real list has different items and problems than the examples
I’m using, but you get the idea.
You may need to up
your loans. We can talk at more length when you come back to school
about student loan repayment plans and forgiveness programs and whether
or not loans are worth it, but bottom line is, they’re much more
generous than they were five-six years ago. This is one really useful
nation-building thing Congress has done in the last few years, that most
folks don’t know about.
Think of student loans as an
investment, as if you were starting a business. If you were starting a
business, like a bakery or an auto shop, you’d probably get a bank loan
of several tens of thousands of dollars to buy equipment, but you’d need
to show the bank your business plan. In this case we’re starting a
business called “XXX’s Career,” and making a similar investment. The
investment needs to pay off in the sense that you can afford to pay the
student loan when you get done, and still have money left over for other
goals like a nice life, a house, or retirement, so this also has to be a
very well-planned investment. That’s not as hard as it sounds with the
new lower interest rates, pay as you earn, forgiveness and wotnot.
people in the sustainable energy business are hiring. To properly plan,
we need to start looking at some of these jobs, think about which kinds
of jobs you’d like to do, and see how much they pay. We can talk more
when you get back. If you’re a serious student, and plan, student loans
shouldn’t be a problem.
One thing: Never, ever take out a private student loan. Make sure all your loans are federal.
eat at a place called “Moms," never play poker with a guy called “Doc,”
never take out anything but a fixed interest mortgage, and never, ever
take out a private student loan. (That’s all the fatherly advice I have,
I’m afraid, and even this is partly stolen from an environmental writer
called Ed Abbey.)
Hope this helps,