Is a College Education Worth It?

     Just posting an op-ed article I recently had published in a local newspaper. Let me know your reactions. Some interesting food for thought…

  It’s the standard now-a-days isn’t it? From their earliest days in school children are encouraged to work and study hard so they have an opportunity to go to college, get a degree, and land their dream job. This was certainly the scenario pitched to me throughout my schooling years. My eager young mind ate it up and soon my imagination was filled with fanciful images of what the future would hold for me. I was excited about college and the world of opportunities it presented.

    I was naïve and misguided.

    Don’t get me wrong – college is a wonderful thing. Those four years were some of the most interesting, fruitful, and enjoyable of my life. But a question must be raised, with the current structure of higher education and the daunting price tag that comes with it, is getting a four year degree really worth it?

    It’s not uncommon to find universities that are charging over thirty five thousand dollars a year in tuition. Even the cheapest schools come with a hefty cost that nearly all students cannot afford without parental and/or governmental assistance. Oh, and that government help? Most students receive it in the form of student loans, and as of July 1st the interest rates on Stafford Loans are set to double to 6.8%.

    So here’s the scenario. You graduate high school, you invest thousands into college (both tuition and room and board) you work your butt off, you get a degree, and then what? Is it time to land the job of your dreams?

    Sadly for a growing number of graduates it’s not. Sadly many are finding out that they are coming out of college in a worse financial situation than they left it while still having about the same job prospects. Sadly for many a bachelor’s degree is no longer worth the time, effort, and money required to obtain it.

    Unfortunately this country has transitioned to a business model of education. There are millions of college high school graduates whose families are able to pay for them to receive a college education. When there is demand, as is the American way, there shall arise a supplier to meet these prospective buyers’ needs. There are now colleges with admissions standards across the entire spectrum, from the many which accept students with well below average high school grades and SAT scores, to prestigious Ivy League schools like Harvard. Higher education has adapted to fit the ideology that everyone deserves a college degree.

    This ideology is a warped one. It has bred a frightening scenario within college classrooms. I’ve personally seen students scrap by with minimal effort, truly not grasping the content taught in the course but still receiving a passing grade. In fact, I have spoke to professors who have expressed dismay over the fact they aren’t allowed to fail a certain amount of students without facing repercussion from the university. A university cannot function if it isn’t receiving tuition, right? In order to keep operating a business needs a steady flow of customers.

    So rather than crafting students through education we are crafting education through the demands of students. What we have are institutions that remain functioning but give out degrees to those who have not earned them. To keep students and their parents content attendance to class is oftentimes the only thing needed to secure a student passes a class. I’ve seen this type of situation personally; we’re at the point where we are buying degrees.

    This is harmful to the rest of us who have struggled to master our studies and achieve our degrees. It’s simple supply and demand economics. The more bachelor’s degrees that are given out the less valuable they are to those who receive them. With lower level schools offering less difficult programs that give the same degrees, suddenly the job applicant pool is flooded with “qualified” candidates. I’ve seen it within my lifetime: jobs that formerly required no degree now often want a bachelor’s degree and many jobs that typically required bachelor’s degrees are now asking for a master’s degree. The worst part? These higher requirements aren’t coming with a corresponding rise in salary.

So the cost of education, the amount of people with college degrees, the cost of living, and the standards required to obtain jobs are all rapidly rising. The two things that are flat lining are the amount of available jobs and the salaries these jobs pay. This is some bad math. This system isn’t sustainable.

I know plenty of people with college degrees (some actually having multiple) who are currently working in restaurants, scrapping by at minimum wage just to survive and keep up with their educational loan payments. I have a handful of friends who earned master’s degrees and can’t find jobs in their field. The hope they once had for making a difference in the world and achieving their dreams is quickly fading.

I’m not saying that everyone should abandon the idea of college. For plenty of people it is the right decision and gets them on the path they need to succeed. There are fields right now that are growing and offering well paying jobs to many recent college graduates. The key is realizing what degrees are doing well. Engineering degrees, for example, are currently providing recent graduates with an abundance of well paying job opportunities.

And that’s my point. College is worth it for some people. A bachelor’s degree is worth it in certain fields, but current high school students and their families have to keep this in mind when making decisions about college. As much as we may love a certain subject or topic, with the exorbitant cost of education and the amount of degrees already out there it’s likely that what we want to do isn’t the best decision for our future and that is a sad reality. For all of you considering being art, English, history, philosophy, political science, education, communications, and theatre majors, I advise you all to think long and hard about your decision. A degree isn’t worth as much as it used to be and with the stiff competition and impending debt to come it’s wise to look into alternate career paths.

This is coming from a guy who decided to double major in history and philosophy, with a minor political science. I was planning to go to law school and got accepted, but when the time came I saw the price tag for a law degree was a little too high, and I chose to instead enroll in a master’s program. Always be ready to adapt.  

This reminds me of a conversation I had with someone as of late. We were sitting down over lunch discussing many things. My friend, who hails from the Czech Republic, is only here for the summer to work at a camp. We were talking the state of education and job opportunities in our respective nations. In the Czech Republic most colleges are free and state run, funded entirely by tax payer money. However because of this the standards to get accepted into these colleges and earn a degree are extraordinarily high.

“If I lived in this country, I just wouldn’t get a degree. It costs too much. It isn’t worth it,” he told me.

I nodded along, understanding his sentiments.

“So in America,” he asked, “the public universities are considered less prestigious and the private ones are considered better, correct?”

“That’s not always true, but generally, yes,” I responded.

He chuckled. “In the Czech Republic it is opposite. Public universities are free because you have to earn your right to be there, and they’ll kick you out if you don’t do well. The private universities are considered less reputable because they charge money and that means they’ll just keep students there as long as they pay. “

I couldn’t help but laugh.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Is a College Education Worth It?

  1. sebeenah

    Well my grand father said to me, study hard, get a college degree and then pursue life; he did not have it easy but he tried his best to raise a big family.
    I think we owe it to ourselves to exhaust the resources we have. He didn’t go to the Ivy league Uni but when he spoke, even the soil would stop to listen.

  2. I believe that the most important goal that we can instill in our children is to follow their dreams–whether it is through college or not. I had thought that I wanted a career in finance, which led me through college and an advanced degree in finance. I was never happy. My personality didn’t match others in this back-stabbing, over-aggressive field. Now I am finally doing what I love–using my over-active imagination to write books.
    Dream on!

  3. I think you both touch on important points. My motivation behind writing this essay was to express frustration about the current socio-economic climate in regards to education. I think that despite the difficulties that arise in life (whether educational costs or otherwise) it’s important to work hard and have a dream to strive for. Encouragement certainly helps children get where they want to be, but I also think it’s important to be rational – to have a backup plan if things don’t go accordingly. We can get where we need to be in life, but sometimes there are diversions in the path. It’s key to realize these diversions aren’t necessarily bad – they can build our character and help define who we are.

    Thank you both for your thoughts!

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