Two years ago, my nephew was set to graduate from Maryland’s Towson University with a degree in political science. After six long years, both he and his parents were ready to breathe a sigh of relief—he had made it to the finish line. He had never been excited about school, and his parents had worried about his lack of enthusiasm, wishing he could be engaged in something that ignited his curiosity and provided him more of a motivation to focus, something more hands-on and practical. But they also knew that without a bachelor’s degree, my nephew’s ability to move into a rewarding career, earn a middle-class salary, and enjoy some economic security would be very limited. And they worried that if he didn’t complete that degree before he turned 25, he likely never would (a reasonable concern, given national statistics on college completion). Determined to launch him into adulthood with the strongest possible foundation they could, they persuaded him to go to college and crossed their fingers.
They knew their son well. In fact, he was not burning the midnight oil in the library. As graduation day approached, all three of them were greeted with an unwelcome reminder of his distracted approach to school; my nephew could not march that spring because he was still three credits shy of the requirement. Holding up their son’s transcript, his adviser pointed out that he had taken the same economics course twice—one year apart. My nephew hadn’t noticed. When his exasperated parents demanded an explanation, all he could offer up was that the class had been taught by a different professor, and held in a different room. He got a B both times around.
He eventually completed his degree, but is currently unemployed and living at home, and his life in the two years since he graduated has been a collection of dismal white-collar jobs—in a call center chasing down delinquent customers for Baltimore Gas and Electric, and a law firm processing home foreclosures. He longs for the days when he was delivering pizzas. (He asked not to be named in this story, because he’s sensitive about publicizing the details of his education and employment.)