With most of our classes having been moved online, and alongside the advent of several student-led outcries for partial-tuition refunds of courses that have consequently diminished in education quality, there’s no doubt that these are very difficult times to be a student. As a result, some of us may be wondering (perhaps once again) if college is really worth it at the end of the day. Indeed, the famous quandaries of monumental tuition costs and graduating with obscene amounts of student debt are very substantiated concerns to say the least. Changes to the job market as a result of many more students attending college today compared to the eighties, which has made the bachelor’s degree the new baseline requirement for entry-level professional jobs, don’t help the situation either.
However well-founded these concerns may be though, the fact of the matter is that college remains a student’s most reliable and straightforward avenue to a well-paying, sustainable career. The Federal Reserve, for instance, has repeatedly reported that a college degree leads to higher earnings in the job market. In fact, at every point in their career, workers with a college degree have earned significantly more than those without one. Put less subtly, professor Doug Webber, who has extensively studied the economics of higher education, has written that “the typical college graduate will earn roughly $900,000 more than the typical high school graduate will over their working life." Furthermore, recent technological advancements have made changes to our economic landscape to favor software jobs - jobs that require a college education - and allow manufacturing jobs, as former presidential candidate Andrew Yang has put it, to be “automated away." Coupled with a report released by Georgetown University Center projecting that by 2020, “65 percent of all jobs - compared to 28 percent in 1973 - will require some form of postsecondary education," it’s abundantly evident that pursuing a college education now is more important than ever.
But what if it’s not just about the income? What if it’s about the critical thinking, the self-determined passion, and the sense of nonconformity that we are all capable of discovering without having to attend college? Interestingly, even if we didn’t commercialize the worth of the diploma by centering our assessments around some metric of income, the reality of the situation doesn’t change very much. Despite what icons of business and figureheads of fame (Elon Musk, Mark Cuban, Mark Zuckerburg, etc.) will ceaselessly tell you about the shortcomings of the college system, the fact of the matter is that their philosophies fundamentally stem from a fallacy. The famous line of thinking that college is a sham, or at least “isn’t for everyone" because almost every wildly successful businessman-and woman has dropped out of college gravely overlooks the fact that these people have dropped out of the world’s best universities - which is already something not everyone is able to say they’ve done. Moreover, these people who tout the “successful college dropout" mentality celebrate other people’s successes without first acknowledging the circumstances behind them. Prior to attending college, these business-brand behemoths have already developed pivotal skill sets like educating themselves and managing time and money. They may also have benefited from a network of family and acquaintances with pedigrees of their interest who make their ambitious forays possible. Simply put, they may have had more social capital.
The point, however, isn’t that their situations may have been better - it’s that all these people discount a step in the right direction on the basis that it doesn’t guarantee unconditional success. For the vast majority of people, every degree, from associates to doctorate, correlates to increasingly higher wages. For them, college teaches them how to build life-long connections with people. It shows them the necessary networking tactics that will get them into firms. It equips them with the textbook knowledge that they will need in doing research. It trains them to better document and articulate their ideas, and how to embrace new ones. Ultimately, it’s a worthwhile life experience that not only promises higher earnings, but nurtures its students with the skills they will need to navigate their own way through the real world.
It’s easy to be blinded by the elements of our college system that aren’t perfect, but it crosses a certain line of hyperbole when people champion the notion that college is worthless as a result of these shortcomings, in spite of the entire research community indicating otherwise. Yes, there are absolutely more things to be desired in our economy wherein colleges, the cornerstone of modern employability, are a privilege so inaccessible that those less fortunate must question its necessity altogether. The heart of these issues, however, has never pointed to the colleges themselves. So, perhaps the more appropriate question that needs to be asked is why people won’t listen to the indications of our literature.
Want to become a Noodle contributor? Email: email@example.com