Audio File Download: Episode 002
In this episode I wanted to talk in detail about my experiences in graduate school in general and in seminary in particular. Actually, I’m going to cover my entire college and university experience, to be honest. All totaled, I’ve spent 7 years in post-secondary education, and would have to say about 75% of it was a complete and utter waste of time. Higher education is either a gross extravagance and a wholly unnecessary expense, or it is a complete financial and emotional burden and an utter scam perpetrated by those in government and the for-profit corporate engine that is higher education in the United States.
I would have to be honest and say I have learned nothing at the university or seminary level. Nothing. I used to say I only learned one thing in high school and that was how to type, but that can now be had by simply playing typing games online.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. This podcast episode will cover what degrees I’ve completed, what kind of schools I went to, what kind of delivery they used, what problems I encountered in each, and what kind of ROI I received from each degree. Spoiler, it’s not really a great overall picture, but then again, it could be a whole lot worse.
So, let’s jump in and see what higher education was like for me now that I’m finally finished once and for all.….
My Bachelor’s Degree Experience
I was initially sold a bag of goods when it came to education. I was told to follow my passions and go to college for what I wanted, what I liked to do. But, I came from very low-income stock, and though we were not poor (in that we didn’t have food to eat), we didn’t have much money, either. In fact, we mostly lived on credit and so much so that now in their golden years my parents are under water on their house.
Just before I graduated high school my parents were being strong armed by my older sibling to pay their tuition for college so I was informed there would be no money when it was my turn. I was okay with that. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to college to be honest. My dream was to go into the military for 20 years and then retire, buy a cabin on a lake and write novels for the rest of my life.
Well, when it was time to make a decision, the military made it easy for me. They were advertising not only the G.I. Bill, but an additional $30,000 if I enlisted for four years. Needless to say, I took the bait, enlisted, and spent four miserable years as an indentured servant for Uncle Sam. It wasn’t all bad, really, and I have many great memories from that time in my life, and I did receive an a valuable informal education in my barracks’ room as I read through the Bible for the first time, cover to cover, and spent endless hours, nights and weekends, at the local library reading through all their theology books.
But, I did not start formal college until my enlistment was over and I returned home. I enrolled at the local community college and started classes. Talk about misery! It was just like high school, and, though not quite as bad, by the time the first term was over I was ready to drop out.
Luckily, one day I found a flyer in the quad from a neighboring college offering courses online. I checked it out, signed up for a few courses the next term, and immediately loved it! It was SO MUCH BETTER than going from class to class on campus, having to do group work with others, having to sit in uncomfortable chairs, and listen to boring lectures. I’d already had my fill of this kind of thing in high school, and I knew even back then I could learn more in one day on my own in a library than I could all semester sitting in classes.
So, I immediately disenrolled from my community college on campus courses and enrolled full time online. Now, I’m not going to lie. It certainly wasn’t perfect. In fact, I ended up dropping out of my program about half way through. To be honest, I think I was just tired of learning things I had no interest in and it would take several years and a marriage before I re-enrolled, this time at a four year school online.
This new school was organized a lot better, but it had some bumps along the way, too. I had one advisor tell me about a short cut to speed up classes for a fraction of the cost only to end up paying more in the end. When I finally finished the program, I also discovered there were large graduation fees they failed to mention at admission.
Courses at these schools were pretty typical. If you could manage a calendar, could read a syllabus, and could self-monitor it was great. I remember one course I had online at the community college, about half way through the term the professor just disappeared. Before too long, other students in the class were contacting me to find out what they needed to do because they couldn’t figure it out without someone holding their hand.
Several classes I took at the four year school were independent study or test-based. These are okay if you really know the subject, but not so good if you don’t. I remember one test-based course on drugs and alcohol that I struggled to pass simply because there was no direction given on what to study. Apparently I studied all the wrong material.
I did not care too much for proctored exams. Not that they were difficult, but they were annoying. I wanted to take courses online for a reason, not have to work with the local library to arrange for testing. I discovered at the end of my Master’s program that the local library here doesn’t even offer proctoring services anymore because it’s such a pain for them.
I did finish my undergrad, though. It took me about four years of active engagement to complete the BA in History. Shortly after finishing I enrolled in an online MA in History program. I’ll talk about that next.
My Master’s Degree Experience
I actually attempted graduate school three times before I finally finished a master’s degree. The first time was for an MA in History and the first semester was great. I took out about $12,000 in student loans right on the heels of my divorce, and I finished that semester with straight A’s. But, in the second semester I ran into problems with a professor in a Religions class.
We were instructed to write a history paper on some religious topic, I don’t even remember what it was now. It was the first assignment of the course. I remember being excited as I started working on it and when I turned it in. Then I was blindsided by the professor’s response stating I would be getting a zero for the assignment.
We went back and forth a few times until it was pretty clear what she was doing. I was getting a zero for using the Bible as a historical document. I remember her oddly and uncomfortably repeating herself over and over again, “this is not history, this is not history.” I had no frame of reference at the time to realize why this instructor was so dead set against the Bible as a source of history. Especially in a religions class. It wasn’t until years later that I realized it was because the school was a secular university, and she had been indoctrinated by academia that the Bible is myth.
It was actually a blessing in disquise, though. I was pretty fed up with the situation by that point and I subsequently dropped out of grad school.
Logically it was not the thing to do. I should have just dropped the class or tried to cow tow to the professor and just produce what would make her happy and move on with my degree. But I was really dissatisfied with history as a subject. Plus, by this point, I had been reading articles online about the glut of teachers and the lack of employment opportunities at the college level. I say it was a blessing that I dropped out because 1. there is no chance of getting a job teaching history today and 2. it saved me another $30,000.
What I really wanted to learn about (and teach) was Bible related. I wanted to learn about theology. It was already what I was researching on my own. Everything in school up to that point felt like a distraction. So I set out to find a seminary I could attend.
That was my second attempt at graduate school, when I found an online seminary that offered an MDiv program for free. They were not accredited, but I didn’t really care about that. Well, I did care. I knew I would not be able to teach anywhere with a degree from an unaccredited school. But, I jumped in anyway. And it was a difficult program. Not difficult as in rigor, but difficult in their stipulations. They wanted me to find committee members on my own. They wanted me to do a project in a church context. It was all quite frustrating. I wanted to learn online. I wanted to wrestle with the material I was learning at my own pace. I wanted to study deep things of theology, not material gearing me for a pastorate. I wanted to interact with my professor and other students (if I had to at all) asynchronously. To this day I still see no net benefit of student to student interaction. I hated it in high school, found it annoying in undergrad, and avoided it at all cost in grad school.
Needless to say, after finishing about 50% of my MDiv program I dropped out of seminary. Much of this was due to the increasing realization that most institutions would demand my school have accreditation. Likewise, the more I read up on the current state of academia, I started to wonder if I had any interest in being a part of that machine to begin with. Much less did I want to be a pastor or some preacher in the modern, organized Church.
So, I dove into work instead and studied the Bible on my own for about six years. I then had an abrupt career change and a geographical move to the Pacific Northwest, where I started clerical work in a medical office. During the first year my employer kept giving me raise after raise, I assume in an attempt to keep me on, since there was a shortage for medical staff in my little community. Before I realized it, I had been at the company for about 4 or 5 years and was being paid more money than I would anywhere else, even for many of the academic adjunct positions!
That was the moment I decided to go part time and work just a few days a week, opening up five days each week to do my real work of study and research. But, despite a near perfect self-funded situation happening, I still felt the conviction to return to formal education. I would often find myself up at 2am surfing the net, looking for an affordable seminary or university that would work for my budget.
I eventually settled on Liberty University. It was accredited. It had an MA in History program where I could use my current grad credits. Liberty was also known for accepting credits from unaccredited institutions so I sent my transcripts from my old Seminary as well – how could it hurt?
In the end, Liberty would only accept a few of my history credits, stating the bulk of them were too old. They accepted more of my seminary credits, but as the process moved on, the cost to attend Liberty inched up and up. I hit a roadblock with the Military discount. They would not accept my DD214, so I had to order a new one and that took about 3 months to get.
During that time, though, my old seminary reached out to me. They had looked at my transcripts and also saw I was interested in going to Liberty. They extended an offer for me to finish my Master’s degree with them instead, since I had enough credits to complete their MTS degree (only 3 courses remaining). This school was now nationally accredited and once finished I could easily transfer into Liberty’s PhD program. It would save me about $7000.
So, since I was stuck at Liberty anyway waiting on the military paperwork to arrive, I jumped into seminary study and finished the three courses in one semester. As I got close to finishing, I discovered my advisor had failed to let me know I would also have to take the comprehensive exams to complete the degree! Talk about frustrating. But, it worked out, despite having to set up a proctor with a pastor at a local church (in the middle of a pandemic). I ended up getting an 89% on the test (after cramming all things theology for 2 weeks on quizlet), and aced the written portion.
I did run into some theogical issues at this seminary that surprised me a bit. I had written a paper in a formations class that had us drawing from personal experiences. The response I received from the professor was: I was not prepared for life on earth let alone life in heaven. The same professor took issue with a final paper in the second course because I stated the Genesis 1:26 reference, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” was God speaking to both Christ and the angels since there is no actual statement in the Bible about how or when the angels were created. He seemed very irritated and offended by my remark, stating it was not my place to question orthodoxy. Just as a side not, not long ago I was checking out the Word Biblical Commentary to see if I wanted to spend the money to get the set (it was on sale for $399 from $1500). In the very first paragraph for that verse it states God is most likely talking to Christ and the angels.
I still did not spend the $400.
My other professor for my third course had no problems with my work and I got an A for my effort.
By the time I finished my work at this particular seminary, my military paperwork came in and I was admitted to Liberty in the MA program. Of course, I would no longer be needing it.
I was struggling, though, with Liberty’s PhD in Biblical Exposition program. Mostly with the financial cost of it. There were several discount programs offered, but if you drilled down into the details, I quickly realized I would be hampered either by semester or prerequisite limitations which kept driving up the total price. In the end, I was able to get the cost down to just under $14,000 and that would be full time, finishing in 2 years.
Yes, I had 5 days off each week to do schoolwork. Yes, I lived alone and had no familial responsibilities to distract me. But, was I just fooling myself? Was there any chance there would be a job waiting for me at the end of that two years? Would I burn out after spending half that money and drop out? The coursework in the program looked to be a regurgitation of what I’d already done in my master’s program. Why was I having to do it again? I’ll tell you why. so they had justification to charge me $14,000.
I prayed and agonized over this issue for several months. I went online to forums and asked questions about this particular degree and its cost and asked about other schools that were maybe less expensive. At the same time, the world was losing its mind with woke ideology and critical race theory. Then, abruptly, I saw an article online about CRT making a play for Liberty. There was no way I was going to lay down $14k right when the school was on the verge of losing its biblical moorings.
That’s when someone online made a comment late one night. His words were, “I don’t recommend an unaccredited school, but you should check out ….” At this point I was already looking at alternatives like CES and Master’s International. They were unaccredited but had strong academic programs, and were rather inexpensive. But, still, MIUD would cost about $2000. CES about $6000. I couldn’t see spending that kind of money for a degree that had no real world usability.
This new seminary recommendation, though, looked promising. But there had to be a catch somewhere. Some kind of hidden fee. Something. To my surprise, there was not. It was a seminary created by several pastors across the country in service to the universal church. They charged no tuition and the ThD program was a perfect fit for what I was interested in doing. Granted, it was not a PhD (which is what I wanted) but a ThD would qualify me (in theory) to teach at a particular seminary I was interested in – the only seminary at this point.
My Doctoral Experience
The ThD program at this seminary followed the dissertation only European model, much in the same way CES’ ThD program did. I had looked at several seminaries in europe and it was true, many of their PhD programs do not require any formal classroom work. They are purely self-directed research with an advisor and a committee and the student turns in a proposal, a dissertation, a defense, and does corrections. Sometimes there are programs that allow students to submit already published journal articles in lieu of the dissertation.
So, I applied and did an entrance interview with one of the professors via Zoom. It was about 40 minutes long and he asked some interesting questions. But, to my surprise, at the end of the interview he offered me a spot in the program and he even agreed to be my advisor. I was certain I would have been denied simply on the lack of church attendance alone.
Long story short, I spent many months after that slaving first over my proposal, then over my research, and then over writing my dissertation. After turning it in, I spent a few more months wringing my hands, waiting to hear back from the committee. Once I did receive a response it was quite interesting. The defense was more asynchronous than I had first assumed it would be. I got comments and questions back from all three readers and I went in and made corrections to the document. There were theological issues one professor had with some of my assertions. One issue in particular was my stance against a dichotomic anthropology in favor of a trichotomic one. Interestingly enough, my advisor disagreed not with the professor’s assessment (my advisor was also a dichotomist) but with the fact that the other professor made no theological room for alternative views, even though the trichotomic view is widely accepted in many parts of Christianity.
There were issues, of course, with editing and proofreading, grammar, etc. These were resolved by running my dissertation through Grammarly. Toward the very last, the committee started to nit pick. They wanted wording changed on the approval page. They wanted a doctrinal disclosure in the beginning of the document. They wanted Scripture references formalized throughout the text. Like I said, little stuff.
A few days after my last submission, I received word back from my advisor that the committee had met and unanimously approved my dissertation and that I would be awarded the Doctor of Theology in Christian Philosophy.
Most of me was thrilled. Part of my was a little heartbroken that the chances I would ever teach in an academic setting were slim to none. But, I had to accept the reality of the times in which I live. And, all hope is not lost, really. I have applied to that one seminary that I’ve had my eye on for a long time now. It is unaccredited and is fully online. It uses a flipped classroom model so professors do not teach by way of lectures but through one on one mentoring. They started viewing my application today (fingers crossed).
Even if I don’t find a teaching job, I’m still in one of the best positions I could be in. As long as the state government or the federal government doesn’t remove my religious exemption from taking the COVID vaccine, then I am poised to have a self-funded research program where I can follow my academic interests wherever they lead. I can develop online, asynchronous courses in subject I’m passionate about, I can write books on any subject with no limitation and no publisher or institutional pressure, and I can do as many podcasts episodes as I want to a potentially global audience. Who in academia can say that today?
The Overall ROI on my Education
So, let’s break down the money I spent and see what the Return on Invest actually is.
1. BA in History. Approximately $100 / credit = $12000. VA paid for approximately 40% of this amount. That leaves about $7000 out of pocket.
2. MA in History (never finished). Cost approximately $12,000 in student loans. These have been paid off.
3. MA in Theological Studies. 80% of courses were free. Total of $1000 for 3 courses + graduation.
4. ThD in Christian Philosophy. 100% gratis. No fees. No tuition. Even my diploma was free and sent via postal mail.
All in I’ve spent out of pocket approximately $32,000 for my three degrees (BA, MTS, and ThD). The BA is regionally accredited, the MTS is nationally accredited and the ThD is not accredited.
I saved approximately $5000 on my BA that the VA paid in tuition assistance. Add an additional $6000 for workstudy paid by the VA. I saved approximately $6000 by doing the MTS master’s instead of a master’s at Liberty University. I further saved at least $14,000 by doing my ThD program instead of the PhD program at Liberty. Total on savings was $31,000.
On average for the 7 years of academic study I spent approximately $4500 per year. For tuition I spent an average of $150 / credit.
Now, how much have I made off of these degrees? I have not made any money off of my ThD since I just received it. But there is little chance I will make any actual money off of it in the future, given that it is from an unaccredited seminary and I doubt I would want a ministry job. I’m really not interested in a traditional seminary or academic job either, if completely honest. But, since I spent zero dollars on this degree, the ROI on it is zero from a purely fiscal perspective. If you count the learning experience I had during the process and also the practical experience I received dealing with a dissertation committee, with an advisor, etc, then it was a net positive, though this cannot be quantified fiscally.
The MTS degree does have a negative ROI since I did spend about $1000 to get the degree. It is nationally accredited, but that really means nothing outside of a ministry context. There are no academic positions that can be had with such a degree. A part-time teaching position I applied for at an unaccredited seminary several months ago had over 100 applicants apply. This was a part-time teaching position, with no benefits, and it paid $200 / month. Employment is simply an impossibility in today’s market. So, all things considered, the MTS has a net financial ROI of -$1000. But, it was a very interesting learning experience and it was a prerequisite for the doctoral program. I write the negative ROI off as the equivalent cost of a typical hobby.
The BA likewise has a negative ROI since I spent about $7000 for tuition and various fees. It was a prerequisite for the other degrees, plus it was a good learning experience. If you subtract, though, the income generated from the VA workstudy ($6000), I only spent $1000 on this undergrad degree. Again, this can be written off as the cost of a typical hobby. So, the overall net ROI for all degrees is a negative $2000.
If I secure the part-time teaching position, this ROI will turn positive within the first year. It could replace my current part-time income and would allow me to live and work at the Eden property, something I would consider a paradise lifestyle. We will see. I cite James 4:13–15:
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”
There is no telling what will happen to me going forward. I have no idea when my life with be required of me. I cannot fathom what is awaiting me around the corner. My heart plans my way, but may the Lord truly direct my steps” (Proverbs 16:19).
So, whether God has prepared beforehand for me to be offered a position at this seminary or he has decided to place me somewhere else in a position I could not even comprehend, that is his business. It is my business to submit and obey to his calling on my life.
I would ask that you please keep me in your prayers, that I might have discernment to know and heed his will.
How I Would Do it Today?
What would I do today if I could do it over again? This is for any of you out there that might be just now thinking about college or university or seminary. Maybe you are in the second year of your undergrad or you’re working a dead end job and think education might be your ticket out….
This is really a tough question.
First and foremost, I would argue against following your bliss. You need to do a logical cost analysis, run a potential ROI on your educational goals and see if you’re going to end up in the positive realm or if you will be like my sibling and have $100,000 student loan debt load over their head for the rest of their lives. At this point my sibling believes they will have that debt until they die. This is no way to live.
If I were to do it all over again, I would quit high school immediately. It is a complete and utter waste of time and simply feeds the bureaucracy, not to mention it has become an institution of indoctrination rather than education. Test out, drop out, find an alternative program, unschool, find an online charter school, anything with an accelerated program so you can get your high school diploma as soon as possible. You will want this to check HD on your applications. That is all. Find out from your community college or four year undergrad if you even need a HD. If not, drop out.
I would hit college as early as possible and do it as cheap as possible. I would maximize grants and scholarships (but if you drop high school scratch scholarships). Community college is about half the price of a four year school (free now in some states). I would do all my courses online. Period.
Now, the important question. What would I get a degree in? Knowing what I know now about academia, I would get a BA in liberal studies or really anything. It doesn’t matter. I would get my MA in History or Mathematics, and then would load up on 18 credits of as many other subjects as I would have interest in teaching. Then I would get a PhD in Christian Philosophy. I would get all of these from regionally accredited institutions. I would then find small Christian seminaries and universities that lean quite conservatively, even fanatically so. I would take advantage of teaching online and at multiple institutions simultaneously.
But, this is a hypothetical that does not take in all the factors. One of the biggest factors is what the reality actually is for the modern professor at seminary or university. Do they have ample time to conduct genuine research in the areas they are passionate about, or are they always chasing the politics of the institution? Are they perpetually bullied by publish or perish?
It might be better to get a well paid trade (like plumbing or electrician) work for 10 years and save every dime until you have enough to retire or move to part time. Then you will have the freedom to self-fund your own research and will have no overlords dictating what you can or can’t say or where you should focus your efforts.
Whatever you might do, don’t just accept what your teachers, your parents, or those in authority tell you. I guarantee you they have their own agenda at best, and at worst, they are simply lying through their teeth.
So this was my experience in education as a student, from my first college course to finishing my doctorate. It was a roller coaster and I made a ton of mistakes. But I’m now in a position where I have no one to answer to except God, and I can pursue any research interest I think is important. With this podcast I can teach whatever I want, I can discuss whatever topic seems interesting, and I can talk about it as much as I want. I can develop online courses, especially if I think there is a need for them. Maybe I can make more money working independently (like the ancient philosophers did) than I could being a professor at some seminary. Only time will tell. May God direct my path.
If you have any questions about this episode or have a Bible or theology or philosophy question you would like to ask me, or just want to leave me a comment you can do so by emailing me at email@example.com or your can leave a comment on the show notes post on the website at isaachunterthewriter.com. If you want to support this podcast, please consider buying one or more of my fiction books. Just head over to the website and you can find them all listed there on the front page with excerpts and links to where they can be purchased.
Until my next episode….be well.
Please consider supporting my writing, my unschooled studies, and my hermitic lifestyle by purchasing one or more of my books. I’m not supported by academia or have a lucrative corporate job – I’m just a mystical modern-day hermit trying to live out the life I believe God has called me to. So, any support you choose to provide is GREATLY appreciated.
Excerpt from Sacred the Circle:
There was a knock at the door.
Campbell got up from the chair and crossed the small distance so he could open it.
A young man stood in the doorway, probably in his early twenties.
Campbell could tell he looked a little disheveled.
He had deep rings around his eyes, as if he hadn’t been sleeping much, and he kept checking the hallway in both directions, as if half expecting someone to be stalking him.
“Hey,” Campbell said.
The kid was stumbling over his own words.
Campbell leaned out into the hallway, checking to make sure there was no one else listening.
This guy wasn’t the only one who was becoming paranoid.
There were two students hanging out at the foyer, near the stairs, but the rest of the floor was clear.
“I’m sorry,” the kid said. “Must be the wrong place. I’m mistaken.”
He started to leave.
“Wait,” Campbell said, putting a hand out. “Hold on a second.”
The kid paused.
“What’s your name?”
He fidgeted with his collar.
“I know it sounds crazy, but – ”
“You’re not crazy, Lloyd,” Campbell said, grinning.
“Did you – ? ”
The kid paused, as if unsure if he should continue.
He looked back toward the stairs, then at Campbell.
“Did you know I was coming?” he finally asked. “I mean, that’s not possible, but, were you expecting me?”
Campbell chuckled to himself.
“What’s so funny?” Lloyd asked.
“Well – ”
Campbell pushed the door open all the way so Lloyd could see inside his dorm room.
The entire room was full of them, students, non-students, ranging from what looked like eighteen to even a few middle-aged men, scattered about the room, sitting wherever they could find a comfortable spot.
Lloyd’s mouth dropped open.
“I wasn’t really expecting them, either,” Campbell said. “So, I hope you don’t hold it against me when I tell you, I had no idea you’d be showing up here. Do you care to join us, anyway?”
Buy my book Sacred the Circle to find out what these men are hearing from the supernatural realm. Will they answer the questions tugging at them? What are the visions saying? Who are the Multitude? Why are all these men being brought together? By whom? And why, above all else, are they being convicted….to pray?
But, trust me when I say, you’ll be white knuckling this one with every turn of the page!