The cost-benefit analysis of college is a topic that needs to be re-evaluated every few years. More specifically, where does college fit in the decision making process as students evaluate their futures. As college continues to become more expensive, more and more people are advocating other avenues when it comes to career options. The four year degree is quickly losing its reputation as the “go-to” route for most easily acquiring a well paying career. Two recent articles came to my attention that I would recommend as interesting reads dealing with this topic. In the paragraphs below I have given a short synopsis of each followed by my evaluation and take on the subject.
The writer of the Newsweek article, Megan McArdle, was especially critical of choosing the college route. Although she admitted that personally she …”certainly benefited from the education…” that her parents sacrificed to give her, she goes on to say “that kind of education has gotten a whole lot more expensive …and jobs seem to be getting scarcer, not more plentiful.” “For an increasing number of kids, the extra time and money spent pursuing a college diploma will leave them worse off than they were before they set foot on campus.”
But wait! The plot twists. Midway through the article McArdle quots Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman as saying “Even with these high prices, you’re still finding a high return for individuals who are bright and motivated.” The highlight quote of the article for me, just by the fact that it negates her thesis, was when the author admits: “Experts tend to agree that for the average student, college is still worth it today, but they also agree that the rapid increase in price is eating up more and more of the potential return.” So maybe college isn’t so bad after all.
The second article linked above is interesting for the vast number of careers listed (over 80) that do not require a four year degree, yet pay $50,000 a year or more. These jobs are broken into 3 categories; those requiring an Associate’s Degree, those requiring some kind of post-secondary training and those that require only a high school diploma. I did feel that the article was a bit misleading. I say that because the impression conveyed is that these are entry level careers, when in actuality most of the jobs on the list would obviously require many years of experience. Many others, such as nursing, do not technically require a four year degree, but most of the positions go to people with degrees and since the competition for those jobs are high, you would essentially need the degree to get the position. Even the positions not taken by degree holders often require extensive training programs. These facts are admitted throughout the article, just not as prominently as I would have preferred.
In the end, my position on the matter has remained essentially where it began; that for some people college is a great option, for others it is not. Where my thoughts have progressed are in the timing and purposefulness of the decision making process. I would not advise a person to make the college-no college decision and THEN make their career choice. I think that process needs to be reversed. I would also not advise a person to make their career choice without doing quite a bit of research first.
It is obvious to me that the trifecta of ever rising college costs, the high unemployment rate among degree holders and the growing availability of high paying careers that do not require a degree, demand that a person do some research and some soul-searching early in life. By discovering the ideal career match for themselves early, a person can then purposefully follow the most financially feasible and time effective route to job happiness. My best advice, therefore, is for people to see a career educator, like myself, as early in life as possible.
Darrel Casperson, Career Educator