Author Topic: COLLEGE GENERAL DISCUSSION: Is the traditional four year college worth it now?  (Read 6992 times)

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MatthewShiner

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Given, the current economic crisis and the sky rocketing cost of a college education, is it a smart move to get a traditional four year degree from an university?  Factor in if you finance with traditional student loans that will a burden on a young stage manager as they start their career – and making the least amount a stage manager will make in their career.

I firmly believe that you should NOT be going to college specifically for a certain job – I think a college education should be about bettering yourself and getting a good education for whatever life may deal you down the line.  At 17 or 18, when you are applying for college, I think there is a lot of pressure to choose a career – and I have made it very clear in previous postings that the person one is at 17 is very different then the person you end up being in ten years, and you may change career goals once you get out into the work force.

I believe that you can make a career in theatre without a college degree . . . or, if you feel college is the right choice, you can probably get a college education on the cheap by mixing up community college and traditional university settings with the goal of graduating with minimal debt. On the flip side, a college theatre program will get you some credits, and often credits you would not get in the real world right away.

Thoughts?  Discussion?
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Anything posted here as in my own personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer - whomever they be at a given moment in time.

ddsherrer

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Here's my two cents as a "non-traditional" student.  I have been a professional stage manager for eight years and last year made the decision that I would go and finish this degree that I started a long time ago.  I chose to get a BFA in Stage Management from Point Park University.  I chose this school because, although an SM track, I can still do other things and I have to take lots of classes in scene design, lighting, props, costumes, etc.  I wanted to learn "everything else" and I knew that without starting over in other areas, I would be limited in finding good ways to learn these types of things.  Who knew I'd like lighting design so much?!  I also picked a school in an area where I could continue to make contacts and even find work in theatre.  With plans to stay in Pittsburgh long after graduation, it seems to be working out for me.  I don't think that I need a degree to stage manage, but I would like one.  If I had gone to a program that was so structured when I was 18, I probably wouldn't have gotten as much out of it.  A lot of more traditional students look at college as something you have to do, mostly because other people tell you you should do it; but I've seen many students happy with simply "passing" and therefore not learning as much as they could.

We'll see how I feel in a couple of years when I'm paying back my student loans...
If all the world's a stage, where's my stage manager?

On_Headset

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Different paths lead to different levels of success for different people. Pope Catholic, bears poop in woods.

I went to university myself, and it's played into my goals: I tend to flutter between stage management, production management and broader theatrical administration, so having a deeper understanding of the theory and practice around theatre has served me well, as has the flexibility a university program offered: I took courses in HR, in accountancy, in economics and in cultural studies, and all of it has been useful to me in my career.

If I had wanted to end up in a different place with more technical responsibilities, then a college program would have made more sense.

I think it's strongly advisable to get some sort of certification if you want to make a career out of technical theatre, although there's no reason to do so right off the bat: a few years working in the industry before you go to school actually makes a lot of sense. I've seen quite a few people bump their heads against barriers, though: "I'm sorry, we really wanted someone with a degree."

Of course, it bears noting that, in some circles, having a BFA/BA means you're an overeducated putz with a chip on your shoulder, while in others not having a degree means you're an uneducated interloper who doesn't really "get" it.

Final thought: having a degree makes your life substantially easier if you need to get out of the industry. A BFA might not be the most useful degree in the world in terms of jobs outside of theatre, but it's better than nothing.

BLee

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If you are totally focusing on the financial aspect of college (as many unfortunately have to do nowadays) then sure going to a two year college is a good option. I actually did start at a cheaper college before heading to my alma mater and it worked out for me, but when I transferred it was a difficult transition. When you are labelled the transfer student it means you have to start your degree program practically from scratch (some things will transfer, but often times the degree specific courses have to be repeated so you are on the new program's track) plus you are taking these basic classes with younger students (if you took two years elsewhere that means taking freshman courses when you are a junior, which is a big maturity difference) and I found that I never quite "belonged" to any one class since I was split between upper level classes and lower level classes with students of different age groups.

If you do go that route it is crucial to plan all four of your years, at least to a basic level. For instance, you don't really save yourself any money if you take a bunch of general educations required for universities in your own state only to find out that the state next door has different requirements. If nothing else it would be smart to choose the top two or three school you plan to transfer to and find out what their gen eds are and make sure your community credits will transfer. With the right plan it could be very beneficial otherwise you could end up spending more to make up classes your didn't know you needed (after wasting money on credits you didn't need at all).

And add to ddsherrer's comment, I found that learning in an academic environment as opposed to on-the-job training has allowed me to be more well rounded since I was required to do more in other areas. Of all the theatre degrees I think it is of great importance for a stage manager to learn every department and how to function with any task and not every future employer is going to be happy that you have yet to learn how to focus a fresnel.

XX. The only valid excuse for missing one's cue is death.
-Proverb from the Techie Bible.

billykano

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Whether your major is History, Finance, English, Social Work, Stage Management…whatever, you’re probably not going to stick in that one field for your whole career. Even within each of those areas, there are so many different job opportunities to pursue that upon graduation I think the feeling would be more of “there are too many job choices to choose from” rather than “crap, I can only do this ONE thing for the rest of my life.” I chose to get a BFA in stage management and I would go back and do it again. I have the necessary experience to get started in a certain field but I also have knowledge of other disciplines that could help me land jobs in a completely different field if I chose to do so. Upon graduation, I feel as though my opportunities are not narrowed, but focused.

As for not going to college and just gaining outside stage management experience, I kind of think that would be more limiting than having an SM degree. In the stage management field I really think experience matters more than education to employers, but perhaps if you did want to do a career change, a degree might distinguish another candidate from you, and sometimes that little piece of paper really counts. Luckily while in school I was able to build my stage management resume but also my “normal” resume. I think it’s important to do this whether you go to school or not – any experience is good experience.

In all, it really depends on the individual. Someone can go to college and not do anything with their life while someone else who doesn’t have a college degree can really be making something of themselves.

Tempest

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I have to say that college helped me, personally, but hasn't really helped me get a job.  I even had one person looking for a carpenter overhire tell me they were looking for someone from a more prestigious school! 
I went to a small liberal arts school that wasn't known for it's theatre program, but was doing good stuff.  I got my hands dirty with EVERYTHING.  I probably worked on 90% of the shows in the three spaces over the course of my time there, which gave me a lot of experience and I learned more doing shows than I did in any of my classes.
However, once I graduated, no one else cared about what I had done.  I had all these skills, and no one really wanted to pay any attention to it.
On the other side, I can't imagine what else I would have done, right out of high school.  I wasn't really ready for anything besides some more school. 
I do think getting into a ton of student debt is never the way to go.  Go to a less prestigious school (where you can frequently shine brightly), work through school, get scholarships, but do not go into debt right out of high school.  Life is hard enough; I can't imagine having thousands of dollars of debt hanging over me, too.
Jessica: "Of course I have a metric size 4 dinglehopper in my kit!  Who do you think I am?"

maximillionx

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First off, excellent topic.
Second, my response to the question posed:
Given, the current economic crisis and the sky rocketing cost of a college education, is it a smart move to get a traditional four year degree from an university?
Currently, no. I do not believe a college education in certain fields is worth the burden.  Theatre, depending on your work ethic, talent and sheer luck can be one of these fields.  I work with some individuals who swear by their decision not to go to college, but instead to get yourself out there and work hard.
Now onto a stickier question:
Some aspects of theatre do require a degree - but if you were presented with a candidate with more than adequate experience and no degree, would you hire them?

Stepping outside the theatre box for a moment...my decision to go to college was one I would definitely make over and over again.  It was a place where I learned and developed as a human being. I lived off campus for 3 years and had my own finances so I could save my parents money (the too high cost of education).  I put myself out there, met people, developed my personality, enhanced my alcohol tolerance...

To conclude (cause I could talk about this for days), I would gladly go to college all over again knowing what kind of debt I have placed myself in.  It was an experience that landed me a job right out of college, left me well-rounded, gave me numerous friends and connections, as well as helped me grow.

babens

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Obviously it's a very individual question with no universal answer.  The thing that must be taken into consideration though is as a recent high school graduate is the resume strong enough to compete with a recent college graduate.  It's a catch-22.  Economically we are in a tougher time, so that means it may make sense to avoid college and the associated debt that can result, but it also means that jobs are scarcer and the competition is going to be much, much heavier.

You also have to factor in that with more and more people entering the industry each year with some sort of degree it's going to become more and more the standard to start looking for and expecting people to have that degree, especially if you ever want to move into more of an administrative or teaching position.

MatthewShiner

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I am not so sure a college degree HELPS you get a job in stage management . . . I think it's the experience.  It may help you get an internship or those first few jobs, but after that - the experience you have in the real world is what is going to get you the job.  Might it be better taking the $100,000 + you were going to spend on the education, and put it in a savings account?  As a rainy day fund?

One can make an argument that while getting the education you are making connections, but you could just as easily do that in the real world

I am a huge proponent of education, both at the graduate level and undergraduate level - but, education for education sorts - I firmly believe getting an education as a means to an end, that is to get a specific job, is a mistake for a variety of reasons.  One the cost ratio, especially for a theatre job just does not make sense.  Two, I firmly believe, like other people, that you will most likely change careers . . . or drop out of theatre all together.  Third, I think the value of the degree goes away after two to four years. 

Now, the value of the education will not.

I think from a social economic stand point (pardon me while I pull out this soap box), many people who go into theatre are from a certain middle to upper class background, where we may have a safety net of family to take of us if the theatre thing doesn’t work out (chances are, we were exposed to theatre during out life, so, that may also play a chance in why were are form a certain social-economic background as well).  This social-economic background also, usually carries the expectation of going to college . . . regardless of the degree (how many people was it just EXPECTED that we would go to college?).  So, many of us have gone to college, many of us are just expected to go to college.  There is also just the expectation that success comes with/from a college background . . . which I think is in the process of changing.  I know I am changing my attitude.

I think people should go to college to get a good, broad base education and go through the process of becoming a better person – and be open to the new experiences that a college or university education can bring you.  The trajectory you the may have planned for your life at 18 may be vastly different then the trajectory you have at 22 when you graduate.  I have to say, the trajectory I had for my career 12 months ago is quite a bit different then the goals I have laid out now.  Life changes, and if you can get a good education that can prepare you for everything, great.  If that education comes from a traditional four year college or university or from some other means, is a very personal choice.
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Anything posted here as in my own personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer - whomever they be at a given moment in time.

NomieRae

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I have to admit when I was looking at colleges I had only an "end game" in sight: must get into a good college, to get good grades, to get a good degree, to get a good job. Period. My family and socioeconomic background had groomed me for that mentality. With my grades and SAT scores I was told it would be ridiculous to NOT go to college. At that point I had already decided I'd be doing theater and had lofty dreams of Broadway and national tours.

Now, through my four years of (a very expensive private university) I realized slowly that what I was getting from college was more personal growth and a great liberal arts education, with a side helping of technical theater training. I had moved across the country, left all safety nets behind, and those four years I spent exploring my university while working towards my degree helped me find a footing before heading out into the "real world."

Looking back, and knowing what I know now would I still spend all that money on my BFA? Probably not. Do I regret it? Not a bit. It helped shape me into the person that I am, which is capable of having a career in the field that I love.

My advice to people looking into colleges is that it's a personal decision, a BFA or MFA isn't going to guarantee you anything in this industry because it is all about the experience and networking. It's more about knowing what you need as an individual that worrying about everyone else and their credentials.

...Just my two cents.
--Naomi
"First, I honor life, and with it my life in theatre." -- Jacques Burdick

DeeCap

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My parents didn't go to traditional college, so I was told at a very young age that I had to go to college.
When I left at 18 I was not mature enough to handle it. I went to school to be a high school history teacher. I then became a stage manager. It took college to realize what I was meant to do.
I felt guilty that I spent alot of my parents money for a useless degree, but if I didn't go I would never have known.
Hindsight I would have gone to community college and then transferred.

Rebbe

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I am not so sure a college degree HELPS you get a job in stage management . . . I think it's the experience.  It may help you get an internship or those first few jobs, but after that - the experience you have in the real world is what is going to get you the job.  Might it be better taking the $100,000 + you were going to spend on the education, and put it in a savings account?  As a rainy day fund?
I think college can help you get a job in stage management, because it provides you with shows to put on your resume for those entry-level positions.  I wouldn’t underestimate the value of having a leg up for those first few jobs, especially as the economy worsens and jobs are scarce.  If you skip college and try to go straight to work, you’re still competing with lots of folks who do have that degree, are equally eager to work, and may be more mature after four years of figuring out who they are after high school. 

 Unless you’re one of the lucky few whose parents have an actual lump sum to give you for college, I don’t think the idea of just putting that into a rainy day fund instead of a college education is realistic. Isn’t that part of the concern about whether college is makes sense or not, that it may saddle 20somethings with loan payments their early jobs won’t cover?  Not going to college may mean you don’t have the debt, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can just lay hands on that amount of money.  And your lifetime earning potential might be less because you lack that degree.

I think a four-year college education is still a smart move for many people, just as it has been in the past when the economy was different.  I think it makes sense to consider transferring from a community college to save money if you need to.  I think it makes even more sense to look at state schools that are more affordable than fancy BFA schools.  I’m biased, of course, but my relatively cheap SUNY Oswego education has landed me in the same jobs as Yale graduates. 

As others have said, theater may be forgiving of those lacking a degree, but that’s not as true in other fields.  And honestly, I think most SMs will end up in other fields or move on to different aspects of theater eventually.  I wouldn’t want to be unemployed today without a college degree; I think my resume would get passed over in favor of people with a diploma in addition to a similar work history.
"...allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster."  (Philip Henslowe, Shakespeare In Love)

late_stranger

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I have not hit college yet, but I'm pretty much definitely going. It's the socio-economic thing Matt mentioned. And, speaking with only the experience of an obsessive planner, I can say that I do *not* want a highly structured BFA. I want to be able to learn about all areas of theatre, and also pursue my interest in Spanish and take academic electives.I hope to gain experience working in non-high-school theatre (internships open to high schoolers only let you get so far) and explore all of theatre without the pressure of professional theatres. Also, I am a person who really benefits from being taught things, rather than just picking them up, and my high school only has one tech theatre class, so I would hope to develop my technical skills.

As for finances, I am a little ashamed to admit that I haven't really thought about it that much yet, so I don't want to say anything drastically inaccurate, as I am wont to do when speaking about things I haven't thought through thoroughly.
Don't be so reverent about reality. It's just a trick, done with mirrors.

kateaclysm

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  I even had one person looking for a carpenter overhire tell me they were looking for someone from a more prestigious school! 

It's funny you mention that, about a week ago, a sub deck carp was telling me how much he loved that all our theater's build crew had Master's degrees.

As someone who didn't go the college route, you could have knocked me over with a feather.  I mean the job pays okay for them, but non-IA Off Broadway theater isn't exactly going to pay for your masters in in technical theater from BU.  Ya know?

MatthewShiner

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http://consumerist.com/2010/09/when-will-the-college-tuition-bubble-burst.html


Link to consumerist article about cost of higher education.

"This is a chart from the Carpe Diem blog showing the increase in college education costs, U.S home prices, and the consumer price index. If we had a housing bubble, the skyrocketing costs of higher education is a super bubble.

How did we get here? There's no way the value of that education has kept track with its price.

Well, private lenders are part of the story.

Private lenders cropped up marketing easy credit to students, while at the same time giving kickbacks to schools that shuttle students to these private lenders. The more these schools raised rates, the more students turned to the private lenders, and the profits for the school and the lender kept rising.

Obviously this isn't the case at all universities, but it is at enough. Remember the big settlements Andrew Cuomo got from NYU and U Penn over accepting kickbacks from Citibank? You know that if those guys were caught, there were many more out there doing the same."
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Anything posted here as in my own personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer - whomever they be at a given moment in time.

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