Former Student Finds Identity in Negative Blogs and Self-Imposed Dejection

She's searching for an identity, like most people her age are, and she's found it — as a disgruntled student.

I won't use her name, because I believe in fairness (and for the same reason, I won't use the school's name.) Let's call her Sarah.

Sarah will never know who I am or what interests I have in her work. She would probably be pleased to know I found her blog and spent more than an hour reading through her posts. But Sarah would also likely be offended if she knew my affiliations, and especially disappointed with the thoughts I came away with when I was finished reading.

One aside to the Occupy movement is that it’s becoming more acceptable for former students to be not only scorned but vocal about their poor collegiate experience, especially if it involves a for-profit school.

Sarah’s account was one of the more credible I’ve read, so much so that it would be wrong to discount her thoughts completely. Nor could anyone successfully attempt to change her mind about her experience. Honestly, I found a lot in her I liked. We share similar backgrounds and a love of writing. I wanted to sympathize with her and even offer my own advice since I have a daughter who might one day consider the same trade Sarah and I have.

But I found something troubling in her work, and that ultimately failed to sway my feelings about for-profit learning institutions.

In a series of posts, she offers a week-by-week take on her experience in a bachelor’s degree program at a ground-based school. The resulting degree would ideally lead her to work in a creative field. Her primary complaint is that the coursework and related assignments didn’t seem to match the course descriptions she was provided. She objects to the instructor’s approach that involves reading and sharing thoughts about the material in an online discussion forum. Her and her fellow classmates were asked to exchange their writings, review them on several occasions, and then share their thoughts in the same discussion group. Finally, her posts claim the instructor was rarely available to respond to questions, and that students who turned in lesser work were given similar grades to students who were excelling.

The strength in her argument is the evidence, as she presents it. She never ventures into a disgruntled tone that would cause her readers to lose faith in her argument. By the end of her posts, you can see how let down she feels and why. Her final assessment is that she could have purchased the course textbooks on her own and hired a professional in her field to review her work, and saved a few thousand dollars a course. Any potential student who read her words would be given pause before enrolling – and that’s the shame.

The Occupy Movement has given some fire to former students everywhere who feel there is a basis for the college-as-predators argument. As more and more students feel they are burned by the higher education institutions they attend, an unprecedented amount of blogs are appearing with tones ranging from outright hatred to grounded accounts of direct experiences while attending private universities and for-profit schools.

Former for-profit students with social media accounts are trolling Facebook, Twitter and the like searching for references to particular schools, and issuing messages to potential students who are considering an education at the institutions where they failed. Those messages are simple, usually along the lines of, “Hey, check out my blog before you enroll there.”

These individuals existed before there was a national movement, but there appears to be a growing feeling for everyone to share their stories.

My initial reaction to Sarah’s blog was that if I were affiliated with the school she attended, I couldn’t imagine reading a more condemning account of an academic program’s failure to instruct and transfer knowledge than hers. But then I noticed something else in some other posts on her site: a penchant for suffering. At least one reference to her “survivor” mentality. A general outlook of betrayal that goes back to her childhood.

In other posts on the blog, she manages to contradict herself. I didn’t get the feeling Sarah dropped out. In fact, in one post, she raves about a book she was assigned to read in class. And it’s clear by some of the other topics she addresses, she’s clearly not drowning in debt.

Whether her more negative perspectives and feelings are real or for creative purposes, I can’t say. A great deal of creativity, after all, comes from outright suffering. I sensed that her negative outlook might have led to some of her disengagement from the school’s program. In any creative endeavor, you take from it what you put in. When it comes to writing, for example, the best teacher is the act of writing itself. Your best inspiration can be the work of the other writers around you and the feeling that there are others in the loneliest of trades.

College often features a similar give and take. What you give out, you get back. And it’s especially that way with creative programs.

Based solely on reading her posts, I can’t say she had the same feeling of entitlement that Occupiers have been criticized for demonstrating. But I know there is a feeling in this country – a growing one – among young people to feel overly downtrodden and put upon when something doesn’t go their way. What’s unfortunate is that, more times than not, that’s how things go in life.

While she manages to self-justify her thoughts about the school she attended, I wonder if she’s ever thought about what she brought – or didn’t bring – to her pursuit of an education. The breakdown had little to do with the financial designation of the institution. For-profit or otherwise, you have to buy in before you see your life – and your perspectives – change.

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