Entering the Workforce – Part 2
December 2023, Island Voices

Entering the Workforce – Part 2

By Mickey Fontaine

This article continues the topic of young adults entering our work force. Read Part 1 here.

We next talked with John, who highlighted the huge amount of pressure that we put on students to decide their career path:

“The system isn’t tailored well to people with doubts. Right as you become financially independent, you are expected to basically gamble on your future. For many, that decision is just a leap of faith.”

It’s a question that our culture rarely asks – what if you end up hating your career? You’re thrust into independence and expected to pick a hill to die on with limited life experience. John initially got a liberal arts education from a small university with a focus on conversation and critical thinking, but changed his course afterwards to get a nursing degree, saying:

“I just couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my life, so I was trying it out.”

He described his experience with liberal arts positively, saying that it taught him how to live and think. This was in contrast to his later, more traditional education, which he said was of little value in his life. 

“I just found myself sitting in this big lecture hall with no idea what I was doing or what I wanted. I had made this decision out of necessity, and I was aware of it. That made it very scary, knowing that I couldn’t change my mind.”

Tuition costs turn this decision into a gamble where the stakes are your future. Debt makes it almost impossible to change the course of your tuition without jeopardizing your financial stability. John experienced indecision about his career path and faced costly consequences. He described his experience with debt in this way: 

“You can’t make big changes in your life or explore anything new because you have tens of thousands of dollars holding onto you. If you realize you hate what you are doing, your options are to either take out even more money or just quit. You want to change your mind? You’ve got 80,000 reasons not to, plus interest.”

Emmanuel was able to broaden his horizons with the help of student aid, but heaps of financial aid will not solve everything wrong with our colleges; there are many other problems that go unrecognized. John experienced these, and was forced to pay the price. 

To find the solutions, we need to look beyond the average education. 

Nick pursued a very alternative path, opting for programs built around self-directed learning and interdisciplinary teaching. He thrived in cooperative spaces with small class sizes and close teacher-student relationships. He described his ecopsychology studies at Evergreen WA positively, saying,

“There was a lot of collaboration between teachers and students. We would learn from one another; we were equal.”

Nick felt that traditional colleges don’t value students’ lived experiences and lacked the meaningful, cooperative interactions he found in his education:

“I wonder what the world would be like if student’s perspectives were valued by their teachers more? We are learning every day, and that passive knowledge of how to live and think shouldn’t be ignored.”

College should not be a four-year career course, it should be a time to find what path is best for you. Our institutions need to recognize this and create opportunities for students to learn foundational skills of critical thinking, motivation, and empathy. 

When you push students to what pays best, they will see less intellectual diversity, and their perspectives will be narrowed. “We need to make opportunities for different worldviews to interact and recognize the interdisciplinary nature of education.”

Nick applied this to his own education, saying, “I learned through conversation and cooperation, so there was a lot of intersection between ideas. Everyone’s voice was valued, which was very liberating.”

Although Nick’s education was very untraditional, it proved useful in his later life, and let him follow the road that was right for him. He works to educate youth on essential naturalist skills, ecological awareness, and community interaction. 

Our culture puts a huge amount of pressure on youth to pursue high-paying, technical jobs, even if it’s not in their best interest. High tuition costs and loan debt prevent them from changing their minds, effectively trapping them in their career.

There’s nothing wrong with pursuing a high-paying career, but that life isn’t for everyone, and trying to force it won’t change that. We need to put the well-being of students first; they are not just statistics or economic variables, they are our future. Trying to shape the next generation into what makes the most money will only leave people tied to unsatisfactory jobs by social expectations and unlivable debt. 

We need to enable exploration and personal growth in our colleges by emphasizing general education and genuine interaction. This can be done by creating diverse, conversational spaces where students are encouraged to share their perspectives. We need to leave students breathing room to change their course, by incorporating flexible educational programs, and administering financial aid. Most importantly, we need to give students a voice and recognize the value in their experiences. 

December 8, 2023

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