College experience worth more than grades

By: Emma Christie-Perkins Alumna

Three and a half years.

 That’s how much time I spent writing and editing news articles, designing newspaper pages, completing a degree in journalism and drinking slightly too much coffee.

 Now, flash forward two years. I am married with a baby on the way (due in less than five weeks!), and I plan to be a stay-at-home wife and mother.

 So wait — What about my degree? What about my experience as editor at The Collegian? Was it all a waste?

 Maybe. I, of course, don’t think so, which is why I’ve written this column.

 What is the purpose of college? Is it a stepping stone in the American Dream? Maybe it’s something like this: A college education gets you a degree, which gets you a job, which gets you money, which gets you a house, which gets you a family, which gets you grandchildren, which gets you retirement, which gets you bingo and shuffleboard, which gets you happiness.


 If my sarcasm isn’t clear, let me be more obvious: No, I do not think college should have any part in the American Dream. (In fact, I think the American Dream is worthless and only promises future happiness that it can never grant. But maybe another column on that…)

 If the college experience ultimately boils down to earning a degree that grants you a job in your field, many, many people in our country have and will be disappointed. Here are some numbers from the National Center for Education Statistics:

 In 2014, about 10.6 million students were pursuing four-year degrees. Of those 10.6 million, the gradation rate is around 59 percent. That’s more than 4 million people who won’t graduate. For the 6.2 million who do finish their degree, the unemployment rate of those between 20 and 24 is around 7 percent.

 So, of the 10.6 million who pursue four-year degrees, just over 5.7 million will graduate and get a job by age 24. (And even less will get a job in their field of study.)

 My point in sharing these numbers is not to be grim, but realistic — and, maybe ironically, encouraging.

Clearly, as seen by the above statistics, it is foolish to reduce the college experience to a diploma and an improved résumé. If you make college all about your own personal success, than you are not only gearing yourself up for disappointment, but you will miss out on true education. 

 John Piper, a pastor in Minneapolis, Minn., put it this way: “Don’t reduce your education to acquiring marketable skills. Study to become and behold, not to be rich.”

 College is — at least it was for me — both life-changing and life-defining. It’s where I became a Christian, met my future husband and paid my first utilities bill. And, I also happened to learn quite a lot about writing, editing and running a newspaper (remember: journalism major and Collegian editor).

 I am so, so very thankful for my time at SDSU. In my three and a half years, I learned how to manage my time, how to work with all kinds of people and how to think critically. I wouldn’t trade my college experience for anything.

 I am also immeasurably thankful for the opportunity to be a wife and mother. What better way for me to use the skills and character traits I gained at SDSU than by loving and serving my family? Time management, people skills and critical thought — how could these not prove to be useful in all areas of life?

 So, in your three and a half years (or four or five or whatever), be flexible. Think a little bit less about your résumé and more about what you value. Yes, have goals — even big goals, but don’t let the world, our culture or your adviser tell you what is an acceptable goal.

 Whether you end up a doctor or a farmer or a stay-at-home mom, you can still make the most of your college experience, whether or not you directly use your degree.


Emma Christie-Perkins lives in Brookings with her husband Luke, who does full-time college ministry at SDSU. Along with doing ministry with him, Emma does part-time blogging and painting. When their baby arrives in March, she plans to be a stay-at-home mom.