Back in 2012 I graduated college with a Bachelor of Science degree – a process that took a total of 6 years and $26k in student loan debt. I double majored in psychology and sociology with a minor in philosophy and I can honestly say getting that piece of paper was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Occasionally I wonder if I should have obtained a more technical degree given my enthusiasm for technology, but ultimately I would not change a thing. At the time I chose psychology as my major because I am genuinely interested in human behavior and I wanted to get into social work (something decided not to do after graduation).
Nowadays, there seems to be a popular rhetoric I hear or read about online: college is a waste of time and most degrees are worthless. Although I think there are too many students going to college despite not knowing what the really want to do (does anyone really?) and that there are a lot of degree fields that lack a direct career path, I nonetheless think a post-secondary education is extremely valuable for both personal development and in terms of economic value.
The claim that college graduates are flipping burgers is ridiculous. There are certainly people I’ve met in college that really had no ambition and were simply there because 1) that’s what they were told to do or 2) they were collecting financial aid money. You can find this type of person that has no drive, motivation, or ambition to do much in any social group. Also, some people just have bad luck. I am skeptical there are many college graduates working fast food and those that are, I highly doubt it’s long term.
I know people that have a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science that make well over $100k a year. On the other hand, I went to college with a guy who graduated the same time I did. 6 months after graduation I started a low level job selling smartphones for Sprint. Around the same time, this guy was on the front page of the local paper setting fire to his degree as an act of protest stating how fucked up the system is and that he can’t get a job because he was lied to. The sad reality is that getting a degree does not guarantee you a good job – especially right out of college.
Many young people suffer from the economic burden of paying off loans. Also, life at a university does not necessarily encourage good money habits. After graduation, I see all too often (myself included) people making only the minimum payments toward their student loans and hope that some politician with big promises will wipe out their student debt. The sad reality is the government will not come in and save the day and this hope only prolongs the pain of student debt further.
That’s enough of potential negatives of a degree, let’s change gears to the benefits. A college degree does not simply show you’re knowledgeable in a specific area of study. The college environment fosters the obtainment of other skills, knowledge, and experience including critical thinking, information analysis, presentation skills, reading comprehension, public speaking confidence, increased vocabulary, working in groups, leadership, and networking just to name a few. There are a lot of real world skills one can pick up by the time they complete their degree program.
Networking has been an important component to my college education. Not just simply learning how to network, but the connections I made in college have proved to be valuable. I’ve utilized the connections I made during college to land positions at reputable companies – so the saying goes it’s not what you know but who you know.
Maybe there needs to be a shift in focus while attending college – perhaps less emphasis on subject and more emphasis on the skills and experiences necessary for the 21st century. Our world is undergoing significant change and that rate of change is not slowing down. What was once considered a good education 50 years ago is no longer enough for success in college, career, and citizenship in the 21st century. There is a movement in the education community that suggests that the future of education needs to emphasize the four C’s: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. This philosophy on education is targeted for K-12 students, however in my experience these skills are more or less obtained in college but could be more formalized.
I believe that education is valuable in itself, but if we must attribute economic value to it, then I believe yes, it is (for the most part) economically valuable as well. I think anyone that’s gone through the process and obtained a degree should be proud and recognize that what they accomplished is beneficial to their growth as a person – both personally and professionally. Do you need a degree to succeed professionally in life? Absolutely not – there are other paths like learning a trade or joining military that can be of significant value as well, but a college degree is a viable and worthwile path.