In 2010, a janitor with a degree wondered where his career was headed. See where he is now.

In the ongoing public debate over whether college is “worth it,” Anthony Carnevale, a research professor and director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, blames journalists for casting doubt on the value of a university degree.

That’s because whenever a recession hits, he can count on reading stories of college graduates who can’t find good jobs. Carnevale said these stories reinforce the idea that college may not be worth the time and effort — despite evidence that for most people it is.

“What happens is if you’re the publisher and someone brings you a story that’s about someone who went to college and they’re picking up trash, you publish that story. “, said Carnevale, recalling the title of a 2010 article in the the Chronicle.

The article profiled Sam Fanning, who graduated from Eastern Michigan University in December 2009, just months after the Great Recession officially ended. When Fanning couldn’t find a job related to his degree in network and information technology administration, he took a night shift as a janitor at his alma mater.

Fanning said he was grateful for the job, which started at $13.01 an hour (about $17.79 today, adjusted for inflation) and offered sick and vacation time. , a 401(k), and tuition assistance. But scrubbing toilets and worse was not the future he had imagined.

The Chronicle recently met Fanning, who is now 35 and works in software quality assurance. He still lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Fanning acknowledged that as an undergrad he did not take school as seriously as he should have. While working full time as a janitor, Fanning took graduate courses in an effort to network.

Noah Pylvainen

Sam Fanning at Eastern Michigan U. in 2010

His strategy paid off: one of his classmates offered him an internship that eventually led him to a job where he could apply what he had learned at university.

“I’m the kind of person who tries not to get too depressed,” Fanning said of her time working as a janitor, which lasted less than two years. “You know, if I really thought about it, I probably wasn’t very happy. I mean, I was working midnights, and there was a lot to be upset about, I guess. Still, Fanning said, the job paid well and allowed her to continue her education and meet more people, which was essential to “getting a, in quotes, a real job.”

“I mean, those are all real jobs, right?” said Fanning. “But something that matches my interests.”

Fanning took out about $35,000 in student loans to go to college and set a goal to pay off her loans by age 30. He managed to repay his loans in the year of his 30th birthday.

Fanning said he’s happy for those who will have their student loans forgiven under President Biden’s recently unveiled plan that will forgive up to $20,000 in federal student loans for people earning less than $125,000 a year.

“The government subsidizes a lot of things, doesn’t it? Like we subsidize wars, we subsidize beef… we subsidize everything, every industry,” Fanning said. “But for some reason, when it comes to education, there are obviously programs available there, but I think they’re quite lacking.”

If we don’t help the younger generations, Fanning said, “I think we’re kind of setting ourselves up for failure in the future.”

Years ago, Fanning took it for granted that he needed to go to college to get a good job. But today, he says, you don’t necessarily need to go to college to succeed in certain industries, like technology, where alternative routes may include boot camps and other types of training.

But Fanning doesn’t regret her decision to take out student loans to attend college or her stint as a janitor.

“Looking back, I’m glad I was able to do this,” Fanning said of her first job after college. “At the time, I was probably less grateful but still aware that I was better off than a lot of people.”

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