School or Work, That is the Question

Why One Student Dropped out of College, and Why He Thinks it Was the Right Decision

By Kate Bauer

His eyes look haunted. His hand has a death-grip on his pencil. He stares at his sketchpad. A drawing of a beautiful anime girl lays before him. His name is Joshua Joseph and he likes drawing.

josh elsa close

Joshua Joseph draws an anime version of Frozen’s Elsa.

Like millions around the world, he has a dream. He is an artist. He wants to go professional. He knows the best way would be college, but he didn’t make it all the way through. Joseph is one of 48 percent of students that dropped out of Anoka-Ramsey Community College. The average drop out rate of the nation for similar colleges is 62 percent. With a much lower percentage of dropouts than the national average, one has to wonder why those people dropped out? I sat down with one such person.

Joseph seems like a regular guy. He smiles often as he immediately starts to talk in a rapid-fire machine gun style questioning manner. I can tell he’s nervous as he fidgets. His foot bounces up and down as he continues the ‘common courtesy’ questions like they are the most important questions in the world. Joseph finally calms down as I start asking him about what classes he took. I soon find out why Joseph was so nervous. He had quit going to school due to an ultimatum by his parents. Like many young students, he stayed with parents to cut down on costs while going to college. He worked part-time and went to school part time. However, his parents wanted him to go to choose one or the other. Sure, he could have moved out on his own, he tells me, but it’s much easier when you have a support system.

“I had a choice… go to work or go to school. I choose work to get more money. School just costs you money,” Joseph said.

Affordability of college is usually the number one concern for students. Joseph is no different. It costs money to go and he can make money by working. With college debt rising nationwide it’s a cause for concern to everyone. In fact, President Barack Obama acknowledged this with his latest State of the Union address, calling for the first two years of college to be free of charge. Even with Anoka-Ramsey having one of the lowest tuition rates in MN, Joseph decided he needed the money now rather than later.

“It’s like a catch-22,” Joseph states, “If I don’t go to college, I make less money working. If I want to work, I can’t really go to college the way I want to.”

Joseph does say that he eventually wants to go back to school for an art degree. He says it may not be for a long while though.

“I kind of got burned out.” He said.

For many students it’s just too much to do work and school. His eyes mist up and he stares at his anime girl on his sketchpad.

“It didn’t help that I was in… let’s just say a bad relationship.” He hugs his sketchbook to his chest.


Joshua contemplative.

He looks back up at me and our eyes meet. It was a pregnant moment. There are moments like this between friends all the time. Moments when you connect on a much deeper level. A time when out of nowhere you see the other person’s soul and neither of you are the same again. Then the moment passes and I tell him he doesn’t have to talk about it if he doesn’t want to. Gratefully, he smiles and asks me for the next question.

I asked Joseph why he agreed to the interview. He says that he wants to tell his story. He sees so many other have tried and failed. He wants people to know that letting it go for now doesn’t mean letting it go forever. Sure, he doesn’t have a degree now. He may get discovered for his work now and never go to college. He may go to college twenty years from now and never have his drawings see the light of day. That’s the nature of the beast. However, he’s determined to never give up entirely. Joseph finished, “I’ll do what I love and love what I do. In the end, you can’t really ask much more of me.”

elsa further

Joshua Joseph doing “what I love.”

Update: This story was published at The Campus Eye, linked here:


One thought on “Feature Story “School or Work, That is the Question” Project (published in The Campus Eye)

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