When Patrick Stec attended CSUN in Fall 2003, he never expected the financial problems he would encounter.
Stec, a Chicago native, enrolled at CSUN as a journalism major at the age of 26, but left the following semester.
“I left mostly because I couldn’t afford the housing costs,” Stec said via e-mail. “I am from Illinois, and think the housing costs (in California) are ridiculous. College was very affordable, but overall, the cost of living (in California) was just a joke.”
According to Dr. Alan Seidman of the Center for the Study of College Student Retention, about 50 percent of first-year college students drop out before their second semester.
“Students who drop out are usually first-generation college students who do not have guidance from their peers or institutions,” Seidman said.
But Stec did not drop out of college for the reasons Seidman provided. He had already attended junior college in Illinois and had experience with college life.
He returned to Chicago because his financial problems in California were conflicting with his education.
But for Stec, it seems that a college degree was not a factor in achieving success.
“I also left because I had a job opportunity that might have not been there if I waited until I finished school,” Stec said. “The job that I have now is real estate appraising. I have been working in the field since June 2004 and I love the job.”
According to Stec, the real estate field is very difficult to get into without any connections.
He attributes his good fortune and success to his brother, who has been in the field for seven years, and was willing to teach him everything he needed to know.
Even though Stec did not need a college degree for the job, he attended a class to get licensed as an appraiser. He went to school for three months, four hours a night and four days a week.
At the end of the class, he passed the state exam.
Stec considers his line of work to be a dream job because he does not sit at a desk all day. Instead, he gets to travel around town and visit new neighborhoods.
He also said he has the opportunity to set his own schedule, and the money he makes is more than he ever expected to earn.
“I average about seven appraisals a week, and at $250 to $300 apiece, it’s pretty good money,” Stec said. “I am making more than what I ever expected to make with or without a college degree. I am glad I chose this field. I definitely could not work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of my life for a salary. I like working where I am rewarded for working more.”
Tasha Douglas, senior public health education major, said she agreed with Seidman that some students do not have the proper preparation for college, but also said that college administration systems discourage students from completing their education.
“The (developmental) courses that you have to take on campus discourage you,” Douglas said. “They make you feel stupid and like you aren’t good enough.”
Douglas said she agrees with Stec that dropping out is good when a student has an opportunity waiting.
“Dropping out is good when you have a job waiting for you,” Douglas said. “Other students that stay in college might not have a good job, and decide to finish school.”
But Stec said he does not recommend dropping out unless a student has connections and can get into the career he or she wants without graduating.
“Most of my friends that have well-paying jobs got them because of who they knew,” Stec said. “They got the jobs because of networking in college. Those who do not network typically have a much harder time getting a job.”
Stec also said he thinks it is important for students to stay focused and get their names circulating in the job market, because even college graduates have a hard time finding jobs.
A study released in March 2004 by the Economic Policy Institute found the unemployment rate for college graduates as being equal to that of high school dropouts. In January 2004, 40 percent of college graduates were unemployed, while 60 percent of high school dropouts were employed.
Stec, who also holds an associate’s degree, said he believes that even though it might not be a bachelor’s or master’s degree, he knows that someday, his degree will open doors for him.
“I don’t recommend dropping out for everyone,” Stec said. “A degree will never hurt you. If you have the financial means and time to get a degree, definitely do it.”