• Ian Kirkpatrick

A Case Against Going to College and A Case for Mentorship

Updated: Dec 14, 2019

You don’t need a degree to know how to do a job. A piece of paper doesn’t actually hand you the skills. Let’s look at extended education for what it’s really supposed to be: a chance to focus on learning the skills and knowledge as it pertains to a specific career or industry. You don’t need a degree to have a strong career and understand your field. For the longest time, you didn’t actually need a degree in order to get a job. However, as businesses were told they couldn’t put applicants through aptitude tests, those businesses looked for new ways to test their applicants to make sure they weren’t a bunch of idiots and that they could actually do the job.

The demand for applicants with college degrees has more to do with testing someone’s skills than thinking their degree is worth anything. Ten, fifteen years ago it was actually somewhat difficult to get into and complete college so it was a fair way to measure someone’s skill, knowledge, and overall abilities to pick up information. Over the last decade or more, the standards for getting into college have been continuously lowered while teachers, guidance counselors, and parents continued to push this idea, “If you don’t have a degree, you won’t get a job.” The universities became oversaturated with kids who were unfit for college due to the lowered bar and the constant push that targeted the fear of being nobody important for the next 70-80 years and it became a governmental scam to screw the youth of the nation into picking up massive debts with high interest and no defaulting option available.

In fact, universities today are more like a government-run mafia scam than an attempt to actually help the next generation learn skills to perpetuate a strong society. It goes something like this:

  1. Government employees(school officials) tell you that you have to go to college and get a degree in order to not be poor for the rest of your life

  2. They repeat this mantra for the next decade and a half of your life.

  3. Your parents repeat it because your teachers say it, their teachers said it. It all must be true.

  4. You finish high school and need to go to college because the government told you so, but it’s too expensive.

  5. Government makes it difficult to get a job without degrees because you can’t test applicant aptitude. There must be a bar for standards.

  6. University continually lowers the bar so people who shouldn’t go to college are let in.

  7. The government says, “Hey, I see you need some money to go to college. We can help you with that…”

  8. So the government gives you money that you then return to the government facility (college) for the next 4-8 years (or more, depending)

  9. Counselors don’t work with students to find their skills, but rather try to get you in as many classes as possible. Every class is more money for/from the government.

  10. Instead of focusing on a skill, they teach you everything you’ve been supposedly learning K-12, this time at the cost of hundreds of dollars from your pocket.

  11. They don’t teach you the trades you need and in some cases, you’ll never get the experience you need to get a job because there aren’t enough opportunities, departments have favorite students, the teachers just aren’t that great, etc etc.

  12. They oversaturate the market with people who don’t have a well-sharpened toolset and focus them all in just a handful of areas so there is a need for specific jobs in society, but no one knows how to do them.

  13. Every dollar borrowed from the government to give to the government facility (university) has a huge interest rate, costing you much more than the original amount.

  14. This is in part due to greed, also in part because you can repossess a car if someone doesn’t pay, you can’t repossess anything people take away from college).

  15. You spend too much time in university with too little practical skill that you can’t get a job in the market.

  16. Now out of school, the government comes after you to collect on the 4-8 years worth of ‘postpone adulthood’ money they loaned you.

  17. Because you don’t actually have the practical skills or knowledge, you don’t have the money to repay.

  18. They take what they can from you. You can’t default. If you can’t pay, they go after your family.

  19. When you have kids, if you have kids, you tell them they need to go to college to get a good job, not because it’s true for you, but because that’s what everyone keeps saying.

  20. The cycle repeats.

The value of the degree was never in the piece of paper; it was in the proof of knowledge, but now we have kids finishing college who can’t read because teachers are afraid to fail them.

And it gets worse. So the kids are in the perpetual trap of borrowing money from the government, digging a deeper hole which many, if not most of them, will never be able to get out of. And while they’re doing this, universities force unnecessary classes on students to keep them in school longer and suck more money out of them, students don’t dedicate themselves to actually picking up the knowledge and practice they need to succeed in a beneficial field, and they’re now using college as a way to postpone adulthood and responsibility by staying in the dorms.

There’s no better proof of this than the woman at Harvard (check?) who yelled at one of the faculty members (get actual job description): “This is not a place for intellectual discussion! This is a home!”

No, it’s not. This is a place to sharpen your skills and knowledge; to allow you time to focus on your craft to prepare you for the future. What so many kids neglect to think about when they accept that money from loan shark government is that college loans are not gifts, they’re not spending money from big daddy government to party and buy your next car, and the money isn’t free. College loans are investments in you as a person and the impact that you can have on perpetuating a strong, intelligent society. The only time you should be taking government money is if you can be sure you’ll pay it back. You wouldn’t stick money into a retirement investment fund with the expectations of losing it all, would you?

You are living, breathing investment in future society. If you take the money to party, ‘build a home,’ and check out of being a member of a civilized, responsible society, you should not be in college.

But a majority of our youths are being taught to do this; this is what they must do; then they get out of their 6-8 years of college with a useless degree in gender studies, race politics, and basket weaving and they can’t find a job and then they complain to the government about how they can’t afford the loans they took out. They complain that other people should have to foot the bill for their poor choices when they are just bad investments and when you make bad investments, you have to deal with the consequences.

It sucks, I know. Our youth are being brainwashed from birth to 18 that there’s only one way to be successful. Then you’ve got stupid, young adults being offered huge piles of money without the real repercussions ever being offered to them. “Do whatever you want!” Everyone says, “Find your passion!” but they don’t tell you about the job market. They don’t tell you about trade skills, they don’t look at your degree choice and ask, “What kind of job can you get with that?” and grill you to help you understand a path for success rather than a path to garnished wages for the rest of your life.

Mentorship is Far More Beneficial Than University

Don’t get me wrong; not every field is poorly studied in university. The medical field and law field are great for university. By keeping these careers in university–with high standards, we’re able to maintain a high ideal for our professionals. We want doctors who know their trade and lawyers who know the law.

However, a majority of things taught in university could actually be taught privately, with mentors, and individuals, the next generation, would see a better outcome.

You may recall my blog post What I Learned In Graduate School from a few months ago. It might have been a bit depressing, even pessimistic, but there is something I’d like to highlight about the University of Tampa: the mentorship program.

The mentorship program offered students one-on-one, focus on their craft, their voice, and their abilities instead of making it a cattle call classroom all the time. For me, I experienced the most growth through the one-on-one feedback, a lesson plan that helped guide me to new places where my craft could be sharpened, rather than the broad generalizations you receive in a classroom filled with 10, 25, or 100 other people…

I can recognize the criticisms I have for the university’s programs while recognizing its best strengths. I believe, aside from the discouragement I mentioned in my previous blog post, the people whom I have to thank for my current skill level, my ability to create a reading list, and what to look for in my writing and reading, are the three mentors I had at the University of Tampa.

Having a mentor allows an individual person to get to know you, your style, and your eventual goals. Their jobs are not to make you their legacy by having you write like them, but their job is to sharpen your tools, to help you say what you want to say in the most effective way possible. Their job is to understand your perspective, spin it upside down, and help you find where your skills are lacking and I strongly believe each one of my mentors from the University of Tampa was able to do this through the one-on-one correspondences we had over the two years.

The Smaller the Group, the Better the Focus

The benefit of a mentor is their ability to focus on you. It’s especially great if you live close by and can do in-person mentorships with the individual of your choosing. I think the larger the group, the worse it becomes. If the group of mentees underneath a mentor becomes too many, then it turns into more of a classroom.

The more people your mentor has to take the time to lead, the less focus you get and I think this is where the criticism comes back into the University of Tampa program. Which, I understand why it is what it is–it’s a school and you can only do so much to shrink class sizes.

Along with getting your mentor, you also received a small group of people who were also seeking mentorship with the same person. During residency, you would critique each other’s work and the professor would guide discussions on craft as it pertains to the work flaws, strengths, and style. I got a lot out of talking about other peoples’ work, you know, discussing the strengths and weaknesses, and reading the work really. However, I didn’t get much out of having other people critique my work. Not at this phase.

Critique groups can be difficult, especially with students who are still learning how to respond based on craft rather than respond based on how it makes them feel and whether or not they like it. With a lot of small group critiques, you can end up with contradicting notes and I can recall more than a few times where students said the opposite of what the mentor said.

I think discussing a polished book or poem or story (or even a purposefully terrible one) would be just as effective as discussing the works of the students for teaching the craft. I think with critique groups, when a work is in progress, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to truly receive a helpful critique from a group if you’re presenting a fragment rather than a full piece. They can’t judge it based on its merit in the whole story. They have to judge it alone.

With university mentorships like this, you also have to consider how spread out your mentor's attention is. Most university mentors, not just those at this specific program, write books themselves, do these mentorships, and teach classes. This draws their focus in so many directions I can only imagine how difficult it actually is to analyze craft, remember student style and perspective, and give feedback accordingly. Now imagine doing this for at least 4-5 students every 4 months, changing that every couple of months, and running your classes while doing your other work.

It’s a difficult job. I imagine it keeps you on your toes too–but I think this is where the university setting becomes extremely weak for teaching craft to young professionals. The fewer the mentees (at a time), the better the focus… and for that, I believe mentorships are better had outside of a school setting.

Mentors Are Not Specific To Universities

Mentorships can be done by anyone, with any level of formal education. The only thing you want to make sure of is they know what they’re talking about in whatever you want to study from them. That’s about it.

For most occupations, you can learn everything you need to know, informally, from a master who currently does that job. You don’t need university courses and you don’t need a piece of paper at the end of a couple of years. That piece of paper literally does nothing for your skills. The diploma anyway receives is nothing more than a certificate to say you did something, but it doesn’t speak for your skills. I know people who have gone through university and came out… with subpar or even novice-level skills. The kind you go, “You spent 2 to 4 to 8 years and this is all you have to show for it?” I’ve seen some people go to school and come out with incredible skills. This in part has to do with individual talent, but also the amount of attention you were served by the faculty at hand. My undergrad program was very different from my graduate program.

Typical favoritism among faculty members allowed some to get all the experience and others to graduate with an empty resume. But let me tell you, those that had a lot of experience were often incredible by the time they graduated and they could have great careers ahead of them.

If you seek out mentors outside of the university setting, I think fair a better chance of your skills being polished, there’s more focus on where you’re at and how to help you succeed. This isn’t a diss on anyone either. It’s just the more bread you have to spread the butter over, the thinner it gets.

Mentors Don’t Cost (Tens of) Thousands of Dollars

Another great argument for seeking mentorship rather than a diploma is the cost factor. Mentorships don’t come with the same costly price tag as a school. Are they free? Generally, but that doesn’t mean they don’t cost something. Mentorships/apprenticeships often cost you your time and labor rather than money. Interning, mentoring, and apprenticing can all be interchangeable depending on the individual and in most of these cases, you won’t get paid, but you will get experience.

With more physical trades, mentorship can come with a paycheck (such as plumbing, electrician, etc) once you hit a certain point. To mentor underneath a writer or artist of any kind? I think you’ll have a tough time finding one that pays when they read your stuff and push your abilities, but they’re out there, I’m sure…

Mentorships Are Give and Take

But mentorship is about give and take relationship, not take, take, take. When looking for a mentor, you don’t want to make the focus about you because let’s acknowledge it now: you’re asking them a favor. Asking a favor taxes someone else of their time and energy which they could use to focus on something else.

This also helps young professionals learn to negotiate better. Rather than having everything handed to them–or everything that’s the bare minimum because the school has some accreditation rules to uphold, you learn how to cooperate with someone else, how to do business, and how to lead.

So remember this if you go out looking, when you go out looking, and while you consider mentorship.

A Thank to My Mentors

I know I can be critical–I acknowledge even hypocritical at times. It’s a personality I’ve grown into over the years, I blame in part to skepticism (lol). I talk to my friends and family about it, and it’s just what I do. So in light of the article I wrote the other week about graduate school, I didn’t want it to seem like I was completely ungrateful or unchanged by the interventions and guidance of my mentors. The encouragement, the discouragement, the sassy statements, critical eyes, and wise appeals, I thank my literary mentors Stefan Kiesbye, Alan Michael Parker, and Jeff Parker for taking the time to work with me, to try to understand me, and to give me the best of their attention.

My writing could not be the same without their assistance and my continual growth even after the program is thanks to their guidance in helping me learn to read critically of myself and of others. I will use the skills they taught me for the rest of my life and my time working with each of them is something I will never forget.

I look forward to hopefully more mentorship in my long(ish?) life because we never stop growing. We never stop learning. And I hope someday I can return the favor by teaching my skills, passing my ‘mental sharpener’ on.

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© 2019 by Ian Kirkpatrick