Currently, the unemployment rate in America sits around 7.7%. While this number is up from just a few months ago, it still leaves much to be desired and has people who find themselves out of work thinking about what they might be able to do to remedy their situation. One of the things that comes to mind right away is, of course, school.
However, since students graduate into a virtual jobless oblivion, this makes others wonder if college is worth it. Now I have an obvious inherent bias since I am an educator, but let us think about the value of college and why it is much more beneficial to earn a degree than not.
The first thing we have to tackle in this discussion can be found in the term “worth it.” We need to define this if we are going to get anywhere. What do we mean by “worth it?” Are we talking financial value, inherent/experiential value, or a rewarding career that comes as a result? What is the genie in the bottle we are trying to reach here? What is the goal, in other words?
Ideally, everyone wants a job that pays well and that they love, but if given the choice between either loving one’s job and getting paid well, many people find themselves at an impasse. So let’s take both of these situations and deal with them separately.
If would-be college students favor a career that in and of itself proves rewarding and has some kind of inherent value other than money, this goal can be reached by earning a degree in whatever field said students wish. If the goal of obtaining a career that is inherently rewarding is reached, then college is worth it. One may wonder, though, if those jobs exist. We just said that the job market is slim at best, but careers with little pay and intrinsic reward happen to be much more widely available than jobs with high pay and more extrinsic reward. In other words, people like to get paid and paid well — stacks of cash, make it rain and such.
So if money is the real issue, let’s think about the benefit of college in that sense. Really, then, the groups being compared here are people with a college education versus those without a college education. If we look at the graph below, we can see the rate of unemployment for those with a college education and for those without a college education.
Now, some may cry foul here and say that this only shows unemployment numbers and not salary, but the article from which this graph is taken in The New York Times also addresses that issue. The bottom line is that, on average, college graduates earn much more than their less educated counterparts.
Again, one may argue that student debt has to be taken into consideration, and this certainly does factor into, or should factor into, one’s decision. However, government supported student loans are typically very low interest and the loan organization works out a payment plan that is usually very reasonable and easily attainable. Private lenders are a different story, but students, again, should be aware of the pitfalls before entering college. They should also calculate how much debt they expect to be in and how much they expect to earn after they graduate.
We also have to remember why we ask this question in the first place. We still find ourselves in a weak economy. Once the jobs begin to come back, who do you think will be hired, the person with a college degree or the person without one?