So Much Fear and Doubt For So Small A Paper

“Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing? So small a thing!” Boromir said when lamenting the great import of the One Ring. I might say the same about an artifact far less powerful, but still consequential in life: the piece of paper that is a college degree.

As I’ve pointed out here before, the highest educational credential I’ve yet earned is a high school diploma; I’ve never really needed a college degree. Truthfully I’ve never even needed a high school diploma either. Nothing I’ve yet done in my life that I recall has required any particular school credential. Right now I’m on the path to become a (self-employed) ballroom dance instructor, but neither that nor the certification I’m training toward requires any degree or diploma whatsoever!

Yet I still think I’d like a college degree anyway. Why is that? Why bother, when I’m on a path to do something I really like that’ll provide me more than $50 an hour on my own schedule to pad my stock portfolio with? Quoting myself on the topic:

All of the universities in my country that offer any remotely interesting intellectual environments are effectively closed to someone like me who didn’t have much in the way of recommendations or extracurriculars, or were otherwise unappealing. I could work my way in I’m sure, but it would take a lot of work. But here’s the kicker: even if I did get in, no degree or course of study has ever appealed to me that much, so I’ve never felt there was much point to trying.

I have toyed with the idea of getting a bachelor’s degree online through some low-cost method; it would be a generic liberal arts degree, but at least I’d have something I feel like I deserve. But the time (working hours a day for months!) and money (like $8000!) I’d sink into it would be put to so much better use elsewhere it turned my stomach whenever I seriously thought about it.

Why shouldn’t I earn one?

I know it’s perhaps the silliest possible reason to want a degree, but so help me, I’m a materialist. All my closest friends have college degrees, and I’m at least as smart and educated as they are; I deserve to have one too! It gnaws at me every time I think about it, more and more with each passing year, with each passing month even. I see their college-educated status and I think “I want that!”.

Even so, that’s not what really stings me about not having a college degree; if it were just them I’d comfort myself with their envy of my dance career and stock portfolio. But it’s not just them.

White Working Class? Bah!

I’m a “non-college educated white”, part of what pollsters call the “white working class”. Now, this moniker is rather inaccurate; I myself am an awkward enough fit, being a pinot-noir-drinking ballroom dancer whose work is tending his stock portfolio, but consider that by the exit-poll definition Bill Gates is a member of the “white working class”. Yes, he’s a white man without a college degree. Search your feelings, you know it to be true! Hehe.

The issue is that as time goes by I’m more and more irritated by being associated with the Republican voter base, the left-behind of our society, the Trumpian family-oriented blue-collar patriots (who don’t really exist outside elite imaginings, but image matters!), as I said in a blog post last October:

Go onto Google and search for “I never went to college” or some such, and what do you find? You don’t find stories of people like me, someone who was a gifted kid, is a sophisticate, and a performing-artist type with intellectual curiosities but who just couldn’t stand to go to school anymore. No. All you see is salt-of-the-earth working-class types who were too dumb to hack it, who love “working with their hands” and dispense out folk “wisdom” that conforms with the middle class’s idealized view of simple living. Well, that’s not me.

Saxnot of Chaos.social once called me (on my Mastodon instance; seriously, the Fediverse is so cool) classist and said I’m looking down on a lot of people:

Well, he’s not wrong; I am something of a snob, too much of a one to want to be in the “white working class” anymore. Sure, being on that side of the diploma divide held some small pleasures for a while, but by now I’m really just sick of it. I might be classist but one thing I’m not is credentialist; I have nothing against those who eschew degrees, diplomas, and certificates. But as for myself, I’m done in a way I’ve never been before. ‘Tis time for a change, I sense.

Affordable and Flexible College Education

I wouldn’t be bothering with it even now, even with all that, if it meant I had to uproot my lifestyle or spend really big amounts of money, but believe it or not I don’t have to! Jay Cross has a method for the “DIY Degree” that has fascinated me for years, which involves taking examinations and “testing out” of an entire bachelor’s degree; three colleges (Excelsior College, Thomas Edison State University, and Charter Oak State College) currently allow this. The upshot is that you learn remotely at your own pace and at an affordable rate; an entire bachelor’s degree may easily be earned for under $10,000. Cheap and flexible enough to tempt even lazy old school-hating me.

But I currently have my eyes set on a slightly different approach: doing a bachelor’s degree through Western Governors University. They also offer learning at your own pace, what they call “competency-based education”, only it’s online and all through them rather than a do-it-yourself Frankenstein monster of CLEP, DSST, and the like. Instead of charging per exam, they charge per semester, a flat $3,375 every six months.

If you take 12-18 months to complete a bachelor’s degree the cost is comparable to the “Big Three” exam schools! That might sound very aggressive, but smart educated people with plenty of spare time, i.e. people like me, have done it; even completing a degree in a single term isn’t unheard of, in which case it’s actually cheaper than the exam schools. This method also has the intriguing feature of financially incentivizing me to work harder and finish earlier, which the “Big Three” lack.

Another advantage is that I actually know people who have earned their degrees from there, and I’ve personally witnessed it open doors for them and help them move up in their careers, so unlike the other options I’m assured of its ultimate value.

What do I want to be when I grow up?

Ironically, my pursuit of being a self-employed dance teacher has helped me set my sights more clearly on what sort of degree I’d want. For a long time I flirted with the hard sciences, or engineering, the latter for years. The first time I could have enrolled in a traditional college on the engineering track comfortably and debt-free was 2016, but anytime I seriously thought about it I felt a wave of panic and dread come over me, every bit of my intuition screaming at me “Don’t do it, it’s a trap!”.

My intuition turned out to be so good it spooks even me. If I had enrolled in the 2016-2017 school year, and studied on the normal schedule (which for a variety of reasons is very difficult to buck for engineering students), just guess when I would have graduated? The 2019-2020 academic year. Oh my god. Talk about trapped! Lockdown would have descended upon me when I had just one quarter’s worth of classes left to go before graduation. Talk about the worst mistake I could have made! I knew people who were in that situation: locked down, with just a few months left before college graduation. And let me tell you: for them, that was rough! I’m very glad that wasn’t me.

I knew. Somehow I knew.

So I put that whole idea on the shelf, until I came across the DIY Degree and found out about WGU, but at the time my thoughts were more along the lines of neat options I could do down the road than something I felt any drive to do right then. After all, what if I wanted to get a degree in something they didn’t offer, or if I wanted to go to some other school, or some other opportunity presented itself? Ah, optionality may be virtuous but she’s also a harsh mistress.

No, I fashioned myself a new Résumé

Guess down the road is now. I feel at this point that not only would WGU be the best bet, but also that their business management degree would be a good choice for me, something I’d like to study, I’d like to have for myself, and that I’m sure I could do. Since I’m going to be running a business it also would look good on a résumé, should I ever wish to become an employee. Not only would it get me past the degree filter, opening far more doors to me than I can access today, I believe it would complement my dance career well. It might sound odd but I sense there’s a certain synergy between business administration and giving dance lessons. A great many skills cross over between the two, after all.

Ultimately I would like to attain an MBA, which is also offered by WGU. It’s just as affordable as the bachelor’s program, which segues more or less directly into it; like the bachelor’s degree I’m pretty sure I could do it, in which case I’d have a master’s degree, opening up about as many doors as you can open with college credentials.

First in the Family

No one in my immediate family has a master’s degree; aside from a couple of distant cousins (who were doctors) and one great-aunt I never knew personally (who was a long-time student just for the hell of it in the Vietnam era, as was apparently trendy back then), nobody in my extended family has ever gotten any advanced degree. Among first cousins and closer only one (!) person got even a bachelor’s degree, and that was just so they could become a commercial airline pilot (one of those jobs that’s somehow both and neither professional-class and blue-collar). Two of my grandparents only bothered to get GEDs when they were like 40; one of my parents was literally a first-generation high-school student (and, interestingly enough, a first-generation college student too).

They were all smart but hated schools, and were able to have a middle-class living standard without them (landing on your feet sans diploma must run in the family…), so it’s not like they were poor or anything, but the point is in my family tree even earning a bachelor’s degree would be an outstanding achievement, let alone a master’s degree. As far as I know nobody in even the extended family ever majored in business or got anything like an MBA, which makes me even more interested. Even among my friends and acquaintances, who tend to be much more heavily credentialed than my family, an MBA isn’t something just anybody gets; I know a grand total of one person who has one.

Conclusion

So let’s say I go get these degrees I have in my cross-hairs. In a few years what will I have to put on my résumé? A BSBA in Business Management, an MBA, a dance instruction certification, years of experience in that field as a self-employed professional, plus my personal stock portfolio returns. That’s going to make for one weird résumé, but one that would make it past the degree filter and might look very competitive and intriguing should I ever apply for an entry-level corporate management job or some such. For what it’s worth Adam R. Grey of Aleph.land thinks so:

Even if I don’t ever actually use them for anything, I would just like to have them for the sake of it. I know it’s silly, but with everything considered I’m pretty sure I’d like to take the plunge while the opportunity for me to accomplish it is open for me. I don’t feel like I’m at a place in my life where I could start working on it immediately, but you can enroll in WGU starting any month of the year; one of these months real soon, I might just do it.

I like the idea of starting when college students traditionally do, in the autumn, Dark Academia time, and I may well be in a great position to do just that this year. None of this is a sure thing, mind you, but I’m feeling more ready than I ever have before…

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