The Relative Value of Education

16 June 2017

College isn’t worth it, until it is. This simple phrase can be used to sum up most of recent alumni’s experiences as they tread water to gain entrance into the work force, laden with the heavy burden of ever-increasing student loans. College is being relentlessly pushed as part of a broken system; a system which starts not at the universities themselves, but at the home, and in high schools across the United States. Ask any current high school student, (or any student for at least the last 15 years), what their guidance counselors’ advice is post-graduation, and I can nearly guarantee the words “bachelor’s degree” were likely mentioned. This holds true for myself just as much as those current students.

The value of college is absolutely relative.  I personally take a non-standard approach to higher learning. I have zero interest to pursue valuable and specialized STEM degrees, (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and the work experience I gained through my time in the military has opened many career paths of interest, which require experience alone in lieu of higher learning. Why then, do I attend school? I view college as a method to expand my horizons, and become a more well-educated and well-rounded human being in general.  College is a chance for me to learn things I enjoy, and learn to think in ways that might not have otherwise been proposed. For some students, college can aid them in developing critical non-education skills they might still lack. In addition to intellectual pursuits, college can also help develop other intangible strengths, such as personal relationships and improved communications skills. Author Piyush Mangukiya specifically cites the relationship building in his article, “Is College Worth the Cost? Absolutely”, when he mentions that “Almost 30% of Americans report meeting their future spouses in college” (Mangukiya 154). In lieu of general life experience post-high school, the social aspect of college cannot be ignored for traditional students. For myself, attending college is a valuable building block for my personal growth, but equally true in my situation is that college is optional. Based on my current career path, college is a bonus on an application, but hardly a prerequisite to obtain good paying work. Overall, given tuition costs, I’d forego it completely if I hadn’t utilized GI Bill tuition coverage.   

   Furthermore, another pet peeve of mine that’s fallen by the wayside is the idea that education starts at the home. The vast majority of information, critical thinking, reading and writing skills a person develops happens when they are off campus. Reading books, conducting research, debating your friends and family members, all these things are what truly create an educated individual. College is simply a way, at least for the humanities majors, to put the finishing touches on a self-education. As a nation, we’ve seemed to have completely ignored this idea of self-education. Guidance counselors, parents, and even teachers have continued to spout this line of propaganda, and espouse the idea that education without formality is impossible. This myth is further spread in the article “The Problem with Choosing between BS and BA”, as the author declares “College is not only about learning your field of study and gaining detailed knowledge in that area, but also about making sure you have a basic knowledge in many areas, which is why everyone has to take prerequisites.” (Bergstrom 171). Bergstrom infers, intentionally or otherwise, that the college education is essentially mandatory in order to gain knowledge in her “many areas”, some might wish to save the cash and check out a book at the local public library instead. In the modern system, the school house is the only area where education can occur, and home study, (reading, writing, and otherwise), is ignored in lieu of current technological trends. Recreational reading, for example, has largely been cast aside in favor of iPhone apps, and more importantly, the idea has been propagated that education in a formal setting is mandatory for success. Parents and counselors across the nation have also done a good job of demonizing skilled trades, further aiding the widespread drought of skilled workers across the United States.  My high school experience, mentioned earlier, exposed me to that theme.

We need to face the facts. Many people simply aren’t cut out for college. Whether it’s a lack of overall education before their enrollment, a lack of earnest desire to attend, or some other intangible attribute, some people are simply better off seeking different types of non-academic career pathways. By blindly recommending college in every scenario, we flood the already overburdened system with debt-laden graduates, and for those who attend and fail, debt-laden non-graduates, with nothing to show for their financial distress. College, and our over-reliance on it, is slowly killing the American economy, and so for many, (myself included, had my financial position been different), simply isn’t worth the cost.

            I’m not the only one to notice this trend. An article from Slate by Michael J. Petrilli, titled “Kid, I’m Sorry, but You’re Just Not College Material”, outlines many of the same concerns. As the author states so eloquently within, speaking about those who feel obligated, though unprepared for college, “To be sure, your long-term earnings will probably be lower than if you squeak out a college degree. But that’s a false choice, because you’re almost surely not going to get that college degree anyway. The decision is whether to follow the college route to almost certain failure, or to follow another route to significant success.” (Petrilli). We must regain a realistic state of mind, and realize that no number of hopes, wishes and dreams will guarantee a college education for all. For the students Petrilli specifically addresses, (namely those from low-income areas, and those who are generally unprepared for college anyways), the cost-benefit analysis of indebting yourself for a piece of paper, and possibly failing in the process, touches upon the edges of absurdity.

            For my very specific situation, college is very much “worth it”, but I can’t make that same judgement for anyone outside of my circle.  From the broken system that keeps young men and women perpetually indebted, to the loss of proper educational focus and direction at the home, college is very often a losing proposition for millions of Americans. At the end of the day, the answer to the question of “is it worth it” can only be found in each individual set of circumstances, but we need to stop forcing it down their throats.

Works Cited

Bergstrom, Desiree. “The Problem with Choosing between BS and BA.” America Now 12th ed, edited by Robert Atwan, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016, 171-173.

Mangukiya, Piyush. “Is College Worth the Cost? Absolutely.” America Now 12th ed, edited by Robert Atwan, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016, 154.

Petrilli, Michael. “Kid, I’m Sorry, but You’re Just Not College Material” Slate, 14 March 2014, Accessed 14 June 2017.

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