Lately, it seems that a person cannot pick up a newspaper, look through a magazine or peruse a website blog without coming across an article bemoaning the continuing devaluation or suppose lack of worth of a college degree these days. I have had students ask me directly whether I felt that having an undergraduate degree from a college or university was worth the investment. It seems that there is no escaping the subject.
Whenever confronted with this question, I do not hesitate to deliver an answer or beat around the bush. I make it clear that in no uncertain terms that the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
While it is true that the cost of college has risen sharply over time, the fact is that our economy has transformed dramatically, as well. It should be no secret to anyone astute to the world around them that the amount of information that we as human beings need to process, coupled with the complexity of the workforce in our 21st century world requires skills that are drastically different from those of our grandparents, in many cases, even parents. Our elders resided in a society that was largely agricultural and manufacturing oriented.
Over the past two decades, our increasingly global economy coupled with ongoing innovative technology and sophisticated social skills have changed the game. Those well-paying factory jobs at the local auto plant, the phone company, the furniture or other local factory, community coal mine, etc., are no longer available. They have either been outsourced, seriously revamped or outright eliminated from the landscape. Thus, some degree of education beyond high school has no longer become optional, it has become a necessity.
Another argument that is bandied about is the fact that some people complain that many people they know earned college degrees only to work at low- or medium-paying jobs. While it’s true that a college degree does not necessarily guarantee the recipient a well-paying job in the immediate or even long-term future (especially if the degree is not a highly technical or specialized field (business, engineering, law, computer science, medicine, finance, etc.), the fact is that virtually all data and statistics indicate that even in such circumstances, that those who hold college degrees still average better pay than those without one. Moreover, there are many people who are college presidents, CEOs, partners in law firms who began their careers as grocery store clerks, waitresses, truck drivers, hospital orderlies and other related occupations. This was the case after they had earned their undergraduate or associate degree.
It has become fairly common in academia that some scholars are doing their best work in their 50s and 60s. The same can apply to non-academics as well. The fact is that not all people achieve their full potential when they are in their 20s, or even 30s or 40s for that matter. The term “late bloomer” can take on many different meanings. Many people change as they get older and move through life. I bet it is safe to say that many (if not the majority) of you reading this article would argue that you were probably not the same person at age 45 that you were at 25 or even 35.
Life is an ongoing experience of growth, development and transformation. Education in the broadest sense, including college, provides the necessary ingredients for such a foundation.
According to Dr. Sandy Baum, senior fellow at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education, men with some level of college but no degree make 22 percent more than men with a high school education and almost 50 percent more than those with no college education.
These facts alone demonstrate a college degree will most likely enable a person to enjoy a standard of living that would be less likely absent of such a level of education.
While it is true that there are some people who attend college, and things do not work out, they are still more likely to fare better if they pursue some form of vocational or technical training beyond high school. The fact is that for the vast majority of people, at least for the present moment and more than likely many, many years from now, having a college degree, or some level or type of postsecondary education is more advantageous than not.