OPINION: Degrees are necessary for many, but not all of their requirements

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Anderson Hall and the grand lawn opens up to the rest of campus as the sun sets on Aug. 9, 2016. Billy Willson, freshman in architectural engineering, called universities a scam in a viral Facebook post Saturaday. (Evert Nelson | The Collegian)

I am torn by Billy Willson’s Facebook post calling college a scam.

His vulgarities and inappropriate gesture aside (and his scam of a t-shirt fundraiser, which is hilariously ironic), his post echoes several of my own observations and sentiments.

I have now finished my seventh semester and have one more remaining at Kansas State. In that time I have learned plenty about my field of expertise, life, myself and the university system.

Every journalism job application I have looked at says a bachelor’s degree is one of the minimum qualifications of employment. If I want to do what I love, a degree is a necessity in the world we live in.

But the process of getting that degree frustrates me, as it did Willson.

Why do I have to take so many general education classes? I understand the point of having a well-rounded education, but the cost of those classes, in my experience, is not representative of their educational value.

First, we should establish the cost of a single gen ed class. In-state tuition and fees equate to approximately $300 per credit hour. A single three-credit-hour class therefore costs $900. Divided by 16 weeks in a semester and three class periods per week, each 50-minute class period costs students $18.75.

For a class of 20 students, the university’s tuition and fees revenues are $375 every time the class meets (20 students times $18.75 per class period per student). For a lecture of 350 students, this number rises to $6,562.50. Does it really cost that much for every single class period to pay someone to teach a gen ed class and to pay for the utilities and maintenance of the room? I doubt it.

The toughest class I have ever taken was sociology; my high school sociology class, not my college one.

My high school sociology class was the single most enlightening class and most academically rigorous class I have ever taken. It proved to me the value of a general education. My college sociology class was the biggest waste of $900 I have ever known. It made me doubt the value of gen ed classes at K-State.

I learned more in my high school chemistry classes than I did in my college ones, which again cost $900 each. I took calculus in high school, but had to take college algebra at K-State because of general education requirements. I find it ridiculous that I was required to pay $900 to take a class that was literally the same as my junior year of high school math.

Next semester I have to take a fine arts class. Apparently four years in the K-State marching band doesn’t count for the gen ed requirement, but “History of Rock and Roll” does. I listen to 101.5 KROCK for free every day while driving to and from campus, so at least I have some interest in the topic.

As a journalist, I understand completely the purpose of a well-rounded education and see the importance of having an understanding in several fields. However, many gen ed classes are overpriced jokes that do little to teach students anything they will remember after finals week.

But it’s not just the gen ed classes. Some of my major-specific classes have been well worth the time, such as my editing class taught by a former New York Times editor. For others, the value, educational or otherwise, has been difficult to find.

That’s partially why, if I could go back in time, I would have majored in economics and minored in journalism. But my experience of minoring in economics has taught me the same holds true: some classes are more than worth $900 and some classes are so poorly taught or designed that little is learned.

Three experiences during my time at K-State have taught me more than any class could have: working for the Collegian, playing in the Pride of Wildcat Land and going through an amazing relationship that ended in a devastating breakup.

It is also important to note that the cost of higher education is not solely linked to the cost of classes. There are ever-growing salaries in a bloated university administration. More money, time and effort going into construction and research to make K-State a top-50 research institution by 2025. As admirable of a goal as that is, why isn’t the goal to be a top-50 educational institution? I’m paying for professors to teach me, not for professors to do research.

Student fees pay for more and more benefits that aren’t directly part of an education. I have been to Lafene once while at K-State and was given cough drops, but all students pay for it. I have been to the Rec Center only once, but all students pay for it. If you didn’t know, your fees help pay for many things, including the Collegian, K-State Athletics and compensation for student government leaders.

I have been fortunate to have received several scholarships. With those scholarships, money my parents saved up delivering Sunday morning newspapers for years and money I saved from working nearly 30 hours a week during much of my high school and college careers, I will graduate in May without any debt.

I will graduate with an amazing experience from K-State and receive a piece of paper that represents what I learned while here. For me, K-State was the right choice. For other people it may be K-State, a different institution, a technical or trade school or no higher education.

Willson chose to drop out, and I wish him luck. I hope he has success in life.

I’m not about to pretend that I know what is best for Willson or for anyone else when it comes to their lives. Those are their choices, just as it was mine. I chose a field where I love what I do but need a degree. I chose K-State and I love K-State.

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Jason Tidd
Jason Tidd graduated from Kansas State University's Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communication in May 2017. He was the spring 2017 editor-in-chief, fall 2016 news editor and spring 2016 assistant news editor. While at K-State, Jason played baritone in the Pride of Wildcat Land marching band.