I am Sorry that College Ruined Your Life

As a youth pastor I have many kids walk into my office and tell me stories that would break your heart.  Tears flowing, questions being asked; begging for the pain to stop.

As a college pastor I have many students who walk into my office (or the local coffee shop we are meeting at) and tell me a story that would break your heart.  Tears flowing, questions being asked; begging for the pain to stop.

Most of the pain for the teenagers is familial, emotional, spiritual with a healthy dose of high school dramatics thrown in.  For the college students, at least the older ones it is about one thing: There are no jobs in sight after graduation and the massive amount of school debt they owe.

I sat with a recent graduate, tears welling up in his eyes as he told me a story that shook me to my core.  He owes $80,000 in student loans and the best job he can find that is remotely related to his field is $9 an hour, 30 hours a week and no benefits.  He is married and has to pay rent.  His car continually breaks down. He has to pay for Obamacare for his wife and himself.  They did the math, there simply isn’t enough money to go around.

I am seeing a growing trend among college graduates, of horrific fear and uncertainty.  It is a rarity that I find them landing jobs in their field that pay anything close to a fair wage.  Often times they had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they were freshmen.  I have heard lines from the mouths of new recruits like “I’ll only be in debt $60,000, that’s not that bad” or “Everybody’s in debt, no biggie” yet four years later as they realize what things cost outside the bubble of college they lament their frivolity.

Is this injustice?  Has it become unbiblical and cruel?  At what point in time does all of this becoming laughingly absurd.  The Presidents, professors, coaches and cooks all want us to believe that we can’t succeed without college, that we need it to be a functioning member of society.  But has the cost (which has risen exponentially since they earned that degree) is staggering.  I am watching so many who have skipped school altogether go into the workforce, make good money and live well adjusted lives.

I have an old High School friend who went to art school because he was told “to become a graphic artist, you must go to school.”  The institute charged an outrageous price, cost him 3 years of earning potential and spit him out with $48,000 worth of debt into a job market where an entry level job pays $8.50 an hour, part time, no benefits.  He was never able to leave the job he worked through college at the local Mall because he couldn’t manage the pay cut to break into his field due to the massive loan payments that strangled him.  In this case he would have been much better never having gone to school.

Should 18 year olds be allowed to make this potentially damaging decision about their financial future?  It seems that our government seeks to regulate so much of our lives; but the gross accrual of suffocating debt doesn’t appear to be on their radar (or at least they are at peace with it).

I don’t have all the answers, and I may be the “chief of sinners” having graduated Summa Cum Laude from a private school, found a good job in my field, paid off my loans all the while serving as college pastor in a college town at a church that ministers to college students.   A majority of the volunteers for my youth ministry are college students who sacrificially, enthusiastically pour the love of Jesus into the lives of my students.  Without them my ministry would look very differently.

I looked across the table at the disillusioned graduate sitting before me and quietly stated, “I’m going to tell you something that the college will never tell you, though they should.  I am sorry for what they have done to you.  I am sorry that college ruined your life.  Let’s look into you and your wife getting second jobs…….”

I don’t have much more that I can say.


10 thoughts on “I am Sorry that College Ruined Your Life

  1. Denise Houser

    You might add a question about whether they have looked into some of the income-based loan repayment options. Yes, they will end up paying more in the long run, but it will buy them time to gain experience so they can get better-paying jobs in their field. They may have to work a job to live on and also work in their field on a free-lance or part time or volunteer basis, just to gain that experience, but somewhere down the road, it will pay off. If they are young college grads, with no children or spouse, they can do this for a few years. If they are older and already have family commitments, it will be more challenging to balance work, experience-getting, and family life, but it can be done.

    As for whether or not people NEED to go to college? I believe that if they have a clear vision for where God is calling them and it is something that requires a degree, then yes, they do need to. But if they are just going because their parents are encouraging it, or they don’t know what they want to do yet, then no. Take time off and work. Start saving money. Try different jobs in different fields while you are young and have the luxury to do so. and above all, listen for God’s calling into the vocation in which He wants you to serve Him.

  2. Sean B

    I have a mortgage that is smaller than many people’s college debt…and interest rates on mortgages are even lower now than a lot of student loans. Seems kind of backwards…

  3. Lindsey Whitney (@lrwhitney)

    I hear you, Dave and it’s a question I often struggle with. I loved Geneva and truly feel that it helped shape me into the person that I am. I will be forever grateful for the things I learned, the worldview I gained, and the friends that I still hold dear. However, the debt has been crippling. I constantly think about money and ways I can make more while still being home with my kids. As it stands, I work part time at church, run a home day care, and do freelance writing. My husband has a good job with benefits, but also an armload of debt. Was college worth it? I guess. But it seems like there might have been a better way.

  4. Kevin Martin

    Sadly, college is not for everyone although it is marketed that way from both the high school ‘guidance’ counsellors and the college recruiters themselves. “You can do anything, that do you like to do?” is a common theme. The sad reality is that, yes, you can decide to pursue any field you want but there might not be gainfully employment in that chosen field. You’ve got to research in what sector the jobs are in and then adjust your selection to something palatable to you in one of those fields. Sad but true, some WILL get their dream job, most will not. Colleges are businesses like any other. They want your money just like the car dealer.

  5. susan

    WOW. I am one of the luckiest people ever. I grew up with 2 parents that wanted me to go to college. My father was in banking. HE knew college was not going to be cheap. YET, he and my mother put money away for both my brother and I. We had birthdays, and Christmas and sometimes Valentine’s cards from family with checks in them………….ALL of that was put into a savings account. I babysat, shoveled snow, cleaned houses and did odd chores for others. I worked 2 jobs in the summer, and sometimes 3. I graduated from HS, and I went to a state school. The money I had saved helped me with college expenses, books, and necessities. After graduation I had NO DEBT,t which was good as in 1987 I found a job in my field at $5 per hour. NOT enough to afford a brand new car, rent, etc. I did without a lot of things…………..I worked 2 jobs for a long time until I got the experience I needed to land a BETTER job. I am very grateful my parents had the foresight to plan ahead.

  6. Deb Kuhn

    Dave, Thanks for bringing this up! As Youth Director married to the Young adult Director at our church, this is one of the biggest issues we see and it is getting worse and worse. And there are many other side issues that we see developing out of the whole thing. And, while I agree to an extent that college is a business like others, I don’t agree that it should be. It has become more (all, in some cases!) about making money than about education – and more about filling in the blanks on a form test than about teaching students to use their gifts and talents. This is probably the second most common thing we hear (right after the staggering debt) college kids complain about. I have personally felt for years that a complete overhaul of the entire system needs to happen! And like you, I find myself struggling with how to answer the regrets and struggles of our students – both those on their way into the system, and those on the way out of it.

    You may just have hit on my top pet peeve in life here! 🙂

  7. Paul Bradshaw

    Hi Dave! What I really see being the problem is that we tell everyone that to really be happy they need to go and make as much money as they can. That if they do not have an education they will never get what they really want. I struggle anymore to line this up with the teachings of Jesus. I am certainly not against education but the reasoning behind why young people go tends to be so they can be so called “happy” by making money.

    1. Luke Walker

      Paul, the number one fault of the church, and the number one reason I hear people leave their churches is because of this crap doctrine on money. You don’t need money to be happy! or worse: money is the root of all evil! and then: since money is so unimportant/sinful, you’d best give it to us!

      read your bible briefly. There are more admonitions on money management in the bible (even from Jesus mouth) than Any subject outside of love. and it’s not all the parable of the rich young ruler that you hear from the pulpit either. The parable of the talents, the entire story of Joseph, the inflections of Solomon: it’s money, literally.

      The bible tells us that the debtor is enslaved by the creditor, and that you cannot serve two masters. if there were ever a good reason for a Christian to forgo college, there it is. and yet we tell them to learn to live within their means and BE happy with less. Get a second job (as if jobs are in good supply–and most service sector jobs look at that degree and say “overqualified”).

      Here’s a thought: money might not be the alpha and omega. having a good wife, loving kids, and a purpose are more important than overflowing bank accounts. however, the only fight I have with my wife, the only reason I feel like an insufficient father, and only reason I wonder if God really wants me doing what I’m doing is… money.

      If you want to live the Gods Holy Poor doctrine out, go do that. but money sends missionaries, money feeds the starving, money prints bibles, money fixes roofs. I’m not preaching prosperity doctrine, but don’t you drivel that poverty doctrine around me. We are called to be in the world–and part of that is financial literacy. Tithe of 80k is a bit more effective than tithe of 8k, so you’re doing the body no good when you encourage them to be broke.

      I know you’re best intentioned, Paul, and I’m sure you’re a great dude, but I think you and most ” be broke ” pastors out there are too far removed from the issue to talk. Now if you literally sell all you own and give the money to the poor, we can talk about taking that passage of Jesus literally for everyone; if you give so much on the first of each month that you can’t make all your bills, creditors start calling you at work, and you’re a month behind on your mortgage, then we can talk. because that’s where most of these kids are coming from… and all your “live humbly and avoid profit” message helps them with is why church is just another bill to pay.

  8. Lindsey

    Thank you for writing this. I wish someone would have told me this when I was 18. Student loan debt is a snare. My whole undergrad cost about $40,000 and that is with a “full scholarship”. Now I am in grad school taking out more debt because the only job my undergrad double major really qualifies me for is, well, nothing. Spending another $30,000 is kind of my only shot at getting into a “career”. College is a giant Ponzi scheme. Have kids take on debt for jobs that don’t exist in majors that have nothing to do with careers… I can’t believe I fell for it. Once were all in debt were slaves to the debt. It’s really gross. If I had to do it all over again, I would take a year off and work, go to community for 2 years, then spend the second two years in a program that definitely leads to a job. The way I did it was stupid, but I was just being told all along, get another loan so what? You’ll pay it back. Yes if I eat ramen in the dark for 10 years. I’m just hoping when I get married he doesn’t have the same crippling debt that I do.


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