Is a college degree a worthwhile investment? Is going to college the best choice?
In a well-worn quote, Bob Dylan once rattled, “The times they are-a changin’.” How right he was. In this day and age, we are seeing one of the premier institutions of our American society called into question, our colleges and universities. The degrees: bachelor’s, master’s, the doctorate. With each successive increase of years of studying under the belt, the respect rises: “Dr. Hogue,” if I had a doctorate, how good does that sound?
But in the economic pinch we find ourselves in, the degrees do not seem to be translating to what they project; money. In fact, people with a Ph.D and who are on food stamps is at an all time high. To quote the NPR article, “360,000 of the 22 million Americans with graduate degrees receive some kind of public assistance.” A degree doesn’t mean money like it always seemed it would. Yet, college enrollment has been steadily on the rise, all the while going to college is more expensive than ever.
When in Doubt, Blame the Boomers
Maybe it’s our baby boomer parents, the generation that really invented college as we know it today. The accessible place where everyone should go to get a degree, then buy a house, then start a family, and then have a career tailor-made for people who went to college. But this definition of college cannot be the end all be all. It has to keep transforming to fit the times. Take a look at the Ivy League during the late 19th and early 20th century. Universities were a very different and exclusive place. Today, we would never have to know how to write Latin and Greek “with the accents” as well as being able to “demonstrate knowledge of “the whole of Virgil,” Caesar’s Commentaries, and Felton’s Greek Reader or comparable texts.” And that's just the entrance exam!
Compared to this, college today is for everyone and it should be. So back to the question at hand, is college worth it?
The answer is yes, it just needs to keep transforming.
Learning for the Sake of Learning
As humans we have a desire to learn and college is the place where we should be free to pursue any educational endeavor, not for a career, but for ourselves. I think the four years of high school, then four years of college model is outdated. College should come when a person knows what they want to study and a degree should not be a prerequisite of a job, rather it should be a result. Many things that I take a genuine interest in and want to learn about I only realized after I got out of college; college should be the place to gain knowledge for the sake of it; not a degree factory.
College Anytime, Anywhere
In terms of President Obama’s educational vision, I think he is on the right track in praising community colleges and affordable institutions. Colleges need to be even more accessible and it is an institution that should be respected as a place for specific, subject-based learning. Subjects with intrinsic interest to a person; if you like literature, study literature, if you like architecture, study architecture, if you want to pick up a trade, do it.
The debate is going in the wrong direction if we call college a place for elitist. We cannot put a basic need for all humans on a pedestal. Humans have a natural desire to learn and college needs to adapt and become a place where people, regardless of age, wealth, or race can do it.
A Place for the Critics
Above all, college is a place where we put our critical thinking to the test. We debate, learn, debate some more, and learn some more. It is a place where people meet others who share like-minded pursuits and they can shape each others education. It is a place for open communication on subjects that will shape the future. No one (and no college) can shut people out of that.
A degree does not mean that we will make money and colleges as well as companies cannot use a degree as the go-to criteria for success. College also does not translate to a more interesting job. College should be nothing more than a place for specific learning and mastery of a subject; a subject of intrinsic interest. It should be public, affordable (especially where interest rates on loans are concerned, can’t we keep them low already?) and it should be sold on the merit of the faculty who teach there and the subjects themselves.
College is expensive and it is starting to show a disconnection with Americans as to what it actually does for people. College needs to make education the center of its market. It needs to be affordable, it needs to be adaptable and people should be able to go to college when it is convenient in their lives; they should not be herded by high school guidance counselors or college admissions.