Almost…so close…just missed…not quite.
Only, I’m not sure if what I missed was an opportunity or a catastrophe. Perhaps only time will tell. I suppose I was being being a bit silly in thinking it could work in the first place, and it probably never would have happened if the alternative hadn’t been so unappealing at the time. Nevertheless, there it is, as they say. It’s probably time to move on.
Sorry; I forgot to actually mention what I’m talking about. I should probably do that.
I was going to stay in college for a while longer, and transfer from Cascadia State College to Our State U. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I had been rejected from graduate school the previous year, and wasn’t anxious to repeat that experience. So, I figured that transferring in as an undergraduate would be an easier route.
But didn’t I just finish college? Wasn’t I ready to put that all behind me and head out into the job market?
Yes, no, and no.
While I have enough credits to graduate from Cascadia this year, I wasn’t fully confident in the awesome job-finding power of a Bachelor of Arts diploma from a hippie liberal-arts college out on The Great Frontier. I was also a bit leery of finding suitable employment out here, given my rather eclectic interests and skill-set and the dicey state of the economy. I thought, too, that a more focused degree from A Prestigious University would carry additional weight in a competitive job market, aside from all the sweet new knowledge I’d gain.
As it turns out, I wasn’t alone in these thoughts. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, college enrollment has spiked over the last decade; by 38 percent, in fact. For students over 25 years of age, the rate was a stunning 43 percent. This trend is expected to continue, surely reflecting both a job market in transition and an economy in shock. Yet there was something more I was seeking: connection and community. After nearly a year and a half of being a stay-at-home dad and solitary scholar, the idea of being on a busy campus bristling with ideas was almost intoxicating.
The trouble came when my wife and I stopped to count the cost and weigh it against the gain. The way my Cascadia credits transferred, I was looking at three more years of school before being eligible for a Bachelor’s from Prestigious U. That meant three more years of loan debt and three years’ less full-time income. Adding this to my (and my graduate-student wife’s) current balance produced a mountain of debt that we simply couldn’t justify for the marginal gain of a slightly better Bachelor’s degree.
So, that was it; I cancelled my enrollment and started gearing up for a career search. I would update my resume, expand my network, and keep my ear to the ground. I reasoned that I didn’t really need more school at this point. I’m pretty good with numbers; have a decent grasp of science; understand economics; and appreciate the intricacies of my field. Plus, I can write pretty well, or so I’ve been told. No problem, then; time to move on.
Something happened this morning, though, that both shook me to my core and gave me an insight that must surely be worth the pain of loss it triggered. Returning to campus with a forgotten library book after dropping off my wife for a meeting, I strolled through a sea of bright, young faces, and was hit by a wave of regret: for the conversations and arguments I’ll miss, the papers I won’t write, even the exams I won’t have to study for. Sure, I’ll keep reading and writing, but I’ll miss that essential magic that occurs in a community. The learning that takes place in hands-on action and the exchange of ideas between people is irreplaceable, and something I know I want more of in my life.
In a way, this lesson is no surprise: I need to get out more. But I didn’t realize my love of learning, or my need for connection, were so great. I need to respect both of these traits as I pursue a career and plan my eventual, triumphant return to the halls of higher education.