In 2015, Goldman Sachs released a report contending that, for many students, the ROI of a college education is DOA. With student debt at nearly $1.5 trillion nationwide, it’s ever more crucial to access the benefits that come after and because of higher education – not only for individuals, but also for society as a whole. Today, an estimated one-third of Americans over the age of 25 have a college degree. Given this number, does higher education still live up to its mission of molding the movers and shakers of the future, or does its failure to do so merit our stepping back from this long-revered system?
This question is particularly relevant today, when the coronavirus pandemic is forcing many colleges and universities to only hold classes online, forever changing (some say limiting) the overall experience and added value that students are hoping (and paying big bucks) for.
Below, we’ll look at three reasons to enroll in college and three reasons to strike a different path.
University of Life
College degrees are not a requirement for high wages.
Who isn’t willing to part with a fair amount of money in exchange for unobstructed plumbing or working electricity? The consistently high demand for plumbers, electricians, and other vocations (and even non-vocations) garner their practitioners handsome wages that are generally comparable with (if not larger than) positions pursued by degree-holders. For example, the starting salary and growth for a plumber is on par with that of a teacher. To be sure, both plumbers and teachers deal with plenty of crap, but the plumber pays one quarter the amount of a teacher to begin her career, and begins earning and advancing sooner, too. So, is college worth it? Let’s remember that elbow grease can be just as effective as a college education when it comes to making a living.
Colleges fail to promote thought diversity.
One of the central goals of higher education is to broaden the mind by presenting students with a range of ideas that force the undergrads to challenge their assumptions. But many have argued that liberality of thought at university extends only to the left. On today’s campuses, less than a quarter of college professors self-identify as Republicans. In fact, a new study suggests that Democratic professors outnumber Republicans 10 to 1. Add to this the regular exclusion of Conservative speakers on college campuses, and the university campus is little more than a canvas for progressive hegemony, one with little hope of genuinely liberalizing its student body.
College really isn’t about learning anymore.
For some universities and their students alike, learning is an afterthought. Colleges are employing fewer tenured faculty positions while bulking up on administrators (they outnumber academic staff) and services that serve no academic function whatsoever. Not that all students mind – college students are reading less (there are also fewer books for them to read) and investing more time in leisure and social activities. Course catalogs at top universities can be shockingly campy, offering courses that have little to no practical use, like University of Pennsylvania’s “Wasting Time on the internet” (because we all need expert help with that, am I right?), or Michigan State University’s “Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse,” or Cornell’s tree-climbing course. The incorporation of trivialities into higher education makes the contemporary college experience look more like an expensive four-year-recreation program than a rigorous endeavor for strengthening the mind. This answers the question of is college worth it.
University is Life
College and good health are bedfellows.
A University of Maine study found a positive correlation between holding a post-secondary degree and good health. In fact, college graduates were shown to be 44 percent more likely to be in “good” or “very good” health than their non-degree holding peers. They smoke less, exercise more, and live longer. Research shows that, regardless of the subject studied, college graduates have increased access to healthcare and higher overall awareness of the lifestyle choices that support longevity and ultimately help them to fend off diseases like heart disease and cancer – diseases which dog the less educated. So, is college worth it? You bet!
A degree promises a more stable future.
Education is a leading factor in determining one’s economic fortunes. Analysis of Labor Department data revealed that individuals who held degrees from four-year college programs earned nearly twice as much as individuals without a degree. College degrees seem to offer more than just financial incentives. Over half of surveyed college grads reported feeling “very satisfied” at work. Similarly, a dissertation study showed that college graduates also lead more fulfilling personal lives (thanks to social skills acquired in college), are less stressed than non-degree holders, and have more resources to offer their children. The benefits of college extend not only to finances, but also to one’s overall quality of life.
Universities push society forward.
Universities excel in convening the world’s brightest minds to propel the whole of society forward. University researchers tackle nature’s and society’s most pressing questions: Can the economy survive reduction in carbon emissions? Wondering about the likelihood of life on other planets? Can you eat chocolate cake for breakfast and still lose weight? More than the in-gathering of experts, universities create an environment of inquiry and exchange that not only facilitates the passage of specialized knowledge but also ensures that the next generation of thinkers develop the critical thinking skills required to address the issues that will affect humanity in the future. When one asks is college worth it, it’s worth considering its positive impact on society as a whole.
Bottom Line: College offers a variety of benefits, both concrete and intangible. But college is no crystal ball, as the likes of Bill Gates can testify. Where do you stand regarding the question, is college worth it? Do the intangible benefits of college still outweigh the downturn in its economic benefit, or is it time society start seeking new avenues to develop careers and minds?