Is college worth the money?

College is expensive. The payoff used to be worth it. With falling incomes is it time to take a second look at what that degree is really worth?

WASHINGTON, December 14, 2011 — One of the main complaints of the Occupy Wall Street protestors is that the enormous cost of a college education far exceeds the value of a college degree.  They are concerned about the massive amount of student loan debt people carry.

But it isn’t the debt itself. Very few, if any, people will tell you that they signed the student loan papers thinking they did not have to pay back the money. The root of their dissatisfaction is that the investment didn’t deliver as promised.

The money was borrowed to achieve the promise of a better life, a life only obtainable if you have a degree or three.

As this generation is starting to figure out, spending money on college is often a huge waste of time and dollars. And now that another generation is growing up and getting ready to head off to college, the question becomes, Is that degree worth the money and time?

Too often, if we are honest with ourselves, the answer is a resounding “no.”

The seeds of this problem started with a piece of legislation many consider to be one of the greatest societal game changers of all time – The GI Bill. Officially titled the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the GI Bill made college available to the masses for the first time in history.

Politicians put the law in place to give servicemen coming back from the war options besides flooding a job market still recovering from the depression. But what it actually did was tear down the ivy walls of higher learning for millions.

Suddenly a whole generation boasted a higher education level than at any other time in history. More students followed where the ex-servicemen had blazed a trail. Men and women flocked to colleges and universities, and the generation after that followed, and the next, and so on.

Which brings us to today where every child’s goal is to go to college and almost every child seems to make it (70% of high school graduates go on to some form of higher learning). The question to be asked is, how many students are out there with Liberal Arts degrees, yet fundamentally untrained for any real job?

We are facing a decline in the standard of living for this generation that seems to counter the accepted mantra of “Go to college, get a degree, get a good job, and the rest of your life will be easy.”

We are now faced with the reality that the person pouring your coffee at Starbuck’s may be more educated than you. 

Where did it go wrong? There is certainly a lot of blame to go around; the for-profit universities, the degree mills, the inability of colleges to set rigorous standards, etc. But an easier answer may be that we have reached the saturation point of college degrees.

Richard K. Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and professor of economics at Ohio University said; “The number of new jobs requiring a college degree is now less than the number of young adults graduating from universities, so more and more graduates are filling jobs for which they are academically overqualified.” [source]

Ask any parent to consider the idea that maybe there are too many people going to college and we should encourage some kids not to go, inevitably the response will be “That’s fine for someone else’s child.” No parent wants to be the one whose kid didn’t get a degree. And there is a real reason for this. Past tudies show that those who have a college degree earn more than those who only have a high school education.

It was a linear argument that went from “spend more money to achieve a better standard of living” that became the bedrock of those aspiring to enter the doors of higher education.

Unfortunately that rule is no longer so hard and fast. Yes, you may earn more money, but you also have student loans. And the gamble is that extra money earned due to a college degree is not assured. A report released by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics shows that one in five porters and bellhops have college degrees. That number is one in four for retail workers. [source]

Many in our society fail to recognize the advantage of postsecondary education instead of college.  A postsecondary education is an institution for someone to learn a trade or a useful skill without having to invest in the tedium of a four year degree. Examples include beautician schools and truck driver courses, among others. Take for example a student who has earned a Political Science degree, and not able to find a job in policy analysis, turns to computers. That student becomes proficient in one or more software areas and is promoted and given raises on those qualifications.

Now imagine if that same person could have dispensed with the degree altogether and just taken course in the software area of their interest? Less money, less time, and more skills are some of the benefits of taking this route.

We do have some technical schools in the United States, and those institutions are no better than the ‘for-profit’ schools that are little more than degree mills. Students are lured in with ‘financing plans’ or given a high pressure sales pitch. [source] These are not the kind of schools that are needed.

Schools that are tightly married with the industry they represent, given rigid certification guidelines, and affordable tuition could be the answer to glut of bachelor degrees entering the market.

It is time to change how we feel about higher education and past time to change the system. It is time to stop lying to whole generation by telling them that obtaining a college degree will make their life better. Today should be the day we free our students from acquiring crushing debt in pursuit of a degree that in all likelihood they may never use.

The GI Bill was a promise that higher institutions would be open to all, but now one wonders if it is time to hang out the ‘closed’ sign.

 

Baltimore based, Amy Phillips is a columnist, blogger, public speaker, twitter addict and all around nerd. 

Follow Amy on Twitter @amydpp.

Amy Phillips is an independent writer for the Communities. Read more from Amy at her Accidental Musings blog.

 


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Amy Phillips

A former military wife armed with a political science degree and an abundance of opinion. By day, I am SharePoint developer for a large Management Consulting firm. By night, I am blogger, social media junkie, and stressed out single parent. I believe in seeing the humor in any situation and if no humor can be found, then a heavy dose of sarcasm will have to do. 

In addition, I chair the Social Media Club for the Baltimore area. In this capacity, I work with some of the most influential media people in Baltimore and bring social media practitioners together in a productive setting.

I am also the creative force behind Blogger Body Calendar 2011 and the operator of a boutique communications firm Social Pollen – focusing on Blogger PR, content writing, and social media management. 

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