The Value of College

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The choice of whether or not to attend college is a big decision for many people. Not only is a college education increasingly very expensive, but it also requires a great deal of time, focus, study, and dedication. There are many who see these expenditures as not worth the cost both temporally and financially. There are some who are skeptical of a college educations value, but end by conceding its worth outweighs the cost. Finally, there are some who do not view these expenditures as worth it at all and forego college or give advice against it altogether. There is no solid answer to the question as to the true value of college attendance until many years later and one is able to reflect upon one’s life course, and even then it becomes a translation of the larger values that a person holds dear. For one person may value the perceived income increases made available by the decision to complete a degree program. Another person may value their time and quality of life with say, family, over any amount of increased income and therefore their happiness would not be contingent upon the capitalist model of work-income-success that many people have been conditioned to believe. I am one of those people, and after considering some information that would question the value of college the reasons for the absolute value of a degree obtaining education will be made clear.

There is an interesting opinion piece written by Ellen Ruppel Shell in the New York Times which challenges traditional notions as to the value of college attendance. She quotes former president Barack Obama as stating that a college degree is an “economic imperative that every family in America has to be able to afford” (par. 2). Higher education has not become a cure-all for an individual’s economic needs, but it has indeed become a buffer against unemployment, a figure that rapidly deviates depending on current political power players. A third of aged 25 to 29 Americans has now at least a Bachelor’s degree. They also have now possessed a staggering amount of student loan debt. By the summer of 2017, there was owed more than $1.3 trillion in total student loans. This number has increased by two-thirds from a decade earlier in 2007 (par. 3). 

People, particularly the young and their families, believe that obtaining a college degree, or at least attendance at a college will increase their prospect in the employment market, and they are correct mostly, and for this, they are willing to go into debt. But since this does increase job prospects is its higher education itself that enhances these prospects or is it the position these people are already in helping to determine their future course? One could make the assumption that some college education would be more beneficial than none if future incomes are contingent upon how much education the person receives. But alas this is often not the scenario. It turns out that some college puts people into not a much better position than no college at all. The forty-percent average of people who drop college prior to obtaining a degree made an average of barely two-thousand dollars more annually than those who had not attended college at all. This is often not enough to even cover the debt incurred during the time they spent in attendance (Shell par. 5).

Moreover, African-Americans who drop out of college or forgo AP courses earn on average less than their white counterparts who have only achieved a high-school diploma. In the meantime, far more likely to drop attendance in college are those individuals considered low-income when compared to their wealthier cohorts. A low-income individual may receive assistance in the form of tuition aid, grants, and scholarships and yet still be unable to afford the mysterious fees, textbooks, and living costs associated with college attendance (Shell par. 7). But this is only one aspect of the research available, and one that may be limited in its framework.

I recently interviewed a student who I used to attend high school and is now at a University. This person admits that college is very expensive, that the fees associated with everything required to be successful are monumental, but considering the alternative possibilities of stagnant employment, low-wage employment, or unemployment made these costs not only acceptable, but more than worth the time, effort, and money required to attend (Sanders).

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics provides charts that agree with the adage ‘the more you learn, the more you earn.’ According to the data, those that hold the highest degrees (Masters, Doctoral, Professional degrees) earn three times more on a median weekly earnings chart than those who only hold a bachelor’s degree or a high school diploma. Furthermore, “workers with at least a bachelor’s degree earned more than the $907 median weekly earnings for all workers” (Torpey par. 2). In addition to this is the data that shows that when unemployment records were compared for those with a college degree and without one, the rates were significantly lower for those who had obtained a degree (Torpey par. 2).

Further research indicates the same correlation between college degree achievement and higher incomes. The pay gap between those with a high school diploma and those with a four-year degree is at record highs. The ones with the four-year degree received a median weekly income of $1,137, while those who had finished their education with a high school diploma average $678. Again the gap is higher when the degrees are those post-graduate versus those with some college or no college; median weekly salary $1,623 and median weekly salary $738, respectively (Moss par. 6). In a corporate-capitalist society, these numbers often translate into the ability to survive, not merely the glamorous lifestyle that may be imagined.

There are many additional benefits to obtaining a college degree as well. People who graduate college report being happier with the work they obtained as a result of the degree. Given that many people spend half or more of their waking hours performing their jobs, this is a significant factor. They also reported a better likelihood of continuing education through the jobs they obtained with the help of a degree, also an important consideration. Fifty-one percent of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher surveyed reported they were very satisfied with their work, compared to only forty-two percent of those who had only achieved a high school diploma (Pfeffer). Surveys of the general public yielded interesting results as well. In terms of the cost and value of higher education, fifty-seven percent of Americans, a majority, do not believe the cost of higher education is equivalent to the value received, and seventy-five percent say that higher education is too expensive for most Americans to afford. But contrary to this was the fact that a staggering eighty-six percent of all college graduates believed that personally the choice to obtain a college degree was a worthy investment, but forty-six percent of these graduates reported it was harder to pay normal bills due to the student loan debt, in particular, the interest plus the debt (“Is College Worth It?” par. 3).

The United States of America in the twenty-first century is a capitalist façade run by corporate interests and the division between classes is by all accounts increasing with no foreseeable relief. If obtaining a college degree will increase an individual’s income in such a dog-eat-dog economy, then it must be the preferred course of action if one is to value survival and security. It is increasingly apparent that the ‘pursuit of happiness’ has become a luxury item for those who can afford such expenditures. Within this model, if one hopes to achieve survival, security and any possibilities beyond these base need a college degree should be the foremost priority in their lives.

Works Cited

“Is College Worth It?” Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project, Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project, 21 Apr. 2014, www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/05/15/is-college-worth-it/.

Moss, Wes. “How Much Does College Cost (and Why It's Still Worth It).” The Balance, 10 Mar. 2019, www.thebalance.com/how-much-college-costs-1289838.

Pfeffer, Jennifer. “More Than a Degree: The Hidden Benefits of a College Education [Infographic].” Rasmussen College, 9 Apr. 2014, www.rasmussen.edu/student-experience/college-life/hidden-benefits-of-college-education/.

Sanders, Jenn. Personal Interview. 19 April 2019.

Shell, Ellen Ruppel. “College May Not Be Worth It Anymore.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 May 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/05/16/opinion/college-useful-cost-jobs.html.

Torpey, Elka. “Measuring the Value of Education: Career Outlook.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Apr. 2018, www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2018/data-on-display/education-pays.htm?view_full.