LAS VEGAS (AP) - The lure of taking home $60,000 a year to park cars or $100,000 to ply cocktails in a skimpy dress in Las Vegas has been too good an offer for many college students to pass up.
Now, many are regretting their decisions to quit school and go for the money. Often, the troubles begin to appear at age 25, prompting some Generation Next commentators to label the phenomenon the quarter-life crisis.
“There's a sense of dashed expectations when you grow up thinking you're going to be someone, and then you realize in your 20s or early 30s that, either you're not that person, or you have no idea who you are," says Alexandra Robbins, co-author of 2001's "Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties.”
Although that crash can occur anytime between the ages of 18 to 35, University of Nevada, Las Vegas student adviser Ryan Lathrum sees the magic number as 25.
"That's when different things start happening," he says. "Friends start getting married and relatives start passing away. Parents get old and people start to do things that, during college, they didn't think they were going to have to do."
Lathrum says he sees dozens of students return to school each year nursing soul-crushing wounds from the real world.
"The average age for a graduate with a bachelor's degree at UNLV is 27," he says. "A lot of people are surprised by that because it should be 22 or 23 for a four-year university."
Although unlabeled as such until 1997, the quarter-life crisis has existed since the advent of extended adolescence in the 1950s. It was a major subplot of 1967's "The Graduate," in which Dustin Hoffman's direction-challenged romantic interacts with corrupted adults whose unappealing advice includes molding a future out of plastics.
Lee Grube dropped out of the Community College of Southern Nevada after his sophomore year. The computer technology student was earning a decent living as a technician at the Adventuredome at Circus Circus, and as a DJ.
"I thought about continuing (school) at the time," he says. "But I said, 'Ooh, money.' “
However, since he turned 25 two years ago, Grube has regretted his decision.
"I have my own computer business now," he says, "but I'm finding with a lot of my computer work, (people ask), 'What degrees do you have?' …Well, I don't."
"I got caught up in the lights, the free hookups and the money," says Mike Garcia, 33, who relocated from his native Hawaii 10 years ago with dreams of becoming a real-estate tycoon. Instead, he tended bar and was a floor host at VooDoo Lounge, Light and the Beach.
"We made anything from $500 to $1,500 a night," he says. "You could go out and blow $1,000 and know that you'd make it up the next day."
Garcia - who ditched college in California during his sophomore year - saved none of the money, and is currently between jobs. “Nobody will hire me now," he says, "because they all want either girls or little skinny guys."
The once optimistic real-estate tycoon doesn't even own his own home.
"I'd trade everything I've got for a business degree," he says. "I know every aspect of the nightclub business. But I can't go to MGM and say, 'I know all this,' because they want somebody with a degree."
Kristin Sowden, 30, also considers herself a victim of Las Vegas culture. She says none of her Southern Nevada Vocational Technical Center classmates considered college an option.
"Some of them were going to try and get city jobs, some had dads who worked at the Dunes," she says. "When you get out of high school, and you're already making $10 an hour in a casino, that's a good job, and it only goes up from there."
Sowden had three children, with three fathers, beginning immediately after high school. She has supported them by working administrative and construction jobs.
"Now we're just always broke," she says. "I have no retirement, I have no benefits. My daughter's 11 and I don't have money to buy her nice things."
Both Grube and Garcia say their current situations render college unfeasible. But for Sowden, attending college since 2005 offers a twinge of hope.
"I feel like doors are just now for the first time being opened," says the UNLV psychology major, who is paying for day care with part of her student loan.
“I find that I'm a lot happier since I know that I'm going to be achieving something and not working dead-end jobs anymore," she says.