I frequently hear of students lamenting the high cost of college tuition these days, yet few are stepping back to consider whether any of it is really worth the expense anymore. For three generations now, it has been assumed without question that without a college degree, it is impossible to get ahead.
It may be time to start questioning whether that paradigm is still in play. In times like these it’s becoming difficult for many to get ahead, even with a degree.
We are now seeing the first wave of graduates who entered school four years ago when what has been euphemistically referred to as the “economic downturn” first began.
According to an article quoted in the Wall Street Journal Sunday edition of August 26th, the great majority of these graduates, assuming they are able to find jobs, are only finding the kinds of jobs they could have gotten had they not gone to college in the first place:
“While 63% of ‘Generation Y’ Workers -those 18 to 29- have a bachelor’s degree, the majority of jobs taken by graduates don’t require one.”
“Half of graduates in the past five years say their jobs didn’t require a four year degree, and only 20% said their first job was on their career path.”
So, is it worth it to go to college? I’m the wrong guy to ask. When I was in college, I majored in Musical Theater. Wanna guess how far that got me?
Most of my friends majored in much more conventional subjects, yet many of them found their areas of study came to have little bearing on their chosen careers nor much of a relationship to their earnings.
Of course, there may still be good reasons to go to college if one wishes to pursue a career in one of the higher professions. Then again, perhaps not. I personally know doctors who no longer find their work either fulfilling or lucrative. Some are so disillusioned by the extent of government interference that they are looking for ways to get out.
As for the standard four year degree in the liberal arts, many are no longer finding it to be that automatic ticket to success it was once thought to be. The documentary film “The College Conspiracy” disproves the conventional wisdom that college graduates on average make a million dollars more in their lifetimes than high school graduates. It isn’t true and never has been.
Most of us who automatically went to college after high school because it was expected of us did so for the wrong reasons anyway. Universities originated in Europe centuries ago as a place for the idle sons of wealthy merchants to gather and discuss history, science, theology, mathematics, philosophy, law, and the arts. And these scholars were a great benefit to the world, as such thinkers helped usher in the Renaissance. Still, it was the less educated of the populace who actually did most of the building, painting, sculpting, and inventing.
As valuable as a university was and always has been, in the old days a university education never was considered a stepping stone to becoming rich. A university was where you went if you already were rich.
Today it could be argued that spending four years at a university is a good way to ensure you’ll spend your life actually less well-off than when you went in. The average student graduating today faces more than $25,000 in debt, and that interest keeps accruing. Many former students leave school owing over $100,000. This is a bill the new graduate has to begin making monthly payments toward almost immediately upon graduating, and unlike most other debt, student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. It is a sword that hangs above the heads of some people literally for decades. There is no shaking it.
I think it must be very unsettling for a recent college graduate to discover that in order to make the payments on that debt, he or she must end up taking a job they could have qualified for without going to college in the first place.
I would not presume to advise anyone not to go to college if that is the course they desire. But if getting an education is your goal, it is something you can do on your own. We have books and the internet. I’m able to make the claim of having obtained a classical education that surpasses that of most college graduates today. But I did it on my own, and I did it after leaving college.
Did it make me rich? I wish. Only rich in knowledge (and, dare I say, wisdom). But that’s why I became an auto-didact in the first place; because I’m curious about stuff.
If your own aim is to improve yourself, and you can afford to spend the time and money, a university education could be a very good thing. If your objective in getting that degree is to make more money when you get out, well, that might be just the thing for you, too. I wouldn’t presume to talk you out of it. Just be aware it hasn’t been working out for everybody.