This past weekend, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum took on the conventional idea that getting a college degree is imperative for students to succeed in the real world. Of course, Santorum did not challenge this commonly held notion in an eloquent way, implying that it is a snobby ideal for pushing students towards a college education. But beyond this attack, Santorum did manage to reintroduce the debate of whether college is really worth it. With college tuition on the rise, student debt reaching historical levels, and a shaky economy fresh out of a recession (although even that can be debatable), the idea that college can directly lead to a brighter future is slowly being taken apart and examined.
There are worries that newly minted college grads struggle to put their degrees to good use while drowning in debt at the same time. Barely half of the grads from my year, 2011, managed to find a job that requires a college degree. Combine this with rising student debt, which just surpassed credit card debt and is soon expected to pass $1 trillion, and you have a large portion of my generation lacking the prosperity and stability that our parents had. So looking at those two factors, it does seem reasonable to go ahead and enter the real world, get work experience, and begin earning an income instead of taking out loans for a college education. In fact, Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal, recently announced that he will pay 24 young people $100,000 not to attend college in the next two years so that they can start a business. With even entrepreneurs and corporate executives espousing the wisdom that college is a waste of money, it’s no wonder that this commonly held belief that college is the key is slowly being questioned.
However, this is not to say that college is not without its benefits. College grads still experience a significantly lower unemployment rate when compared to those without a college degree. And even if those who prefer to enter the working world instead of heading off to a university end up with a head start in terms of income, the long term trend suggests that those with college degrees will end up outpacing those without a college degree. Of course, this all hinges on what exactly you study, with degrees in engineering and education offering much more job opportunities than say, someone who majored in horticulture.
I can attest to the fact that college has been extremely helpful in developing me into the person that I am today. Going to college isn’t just about academics, although it is a huge part of why you’re there. College offered valuable social experiences as well. Going to school with folks from all over the country allowed me to expand my perspective on many issues. I’ve learned so much just from hanging around in an un-air conditioned dorm room with people that came from different walks of life. And from all the people that I’ve met and the experiences that I had in college, I can say that it really helped me find my niche, sharpen my personality and change the way I approach things. In my view, not only is college great for expanding your mind academically, but it also teaches you important social skills and it opens you up to the world beyond your hometown.
So before I go all “Wonder Years” on you, what do you think about the value of a college education? Do you still think it is worth it for students to invest in a college education?
And if you didn’t get the Wonder Years reference, here’s the theme song. Great show.