The Value of a College Education is Still Worth It in 2023! Here’s Why
Americans everywhere have questioned the value of a college education for years.
And no wonder! As of April 2022, the outstanding student loan debt in the US was $1.75 trillion, the highest among first-world countries of its kind.
Yet, ample evidence shows that people with a bachelor’s degree earn 67% more than those with just a high school diploma; they also have lower unemployment rates and contribute more to their community in the way of taxes.
Against such opposing pressures, high school seniors face the difficult task of avoiding debt by forgoing college or taking the risk that the investment in their degree will pay off.
Is the cost worth it? How well does college prepare you for the real world, and can our youth really be better off without the lessons they would learn from these higher institutions of learning?
Let’s talk it out.
The Rising Cost of a College Education
According to Forbes, the price of a college education has increased by 169% in the past 40 years. With such a hefty price tag, parents and students alike want to ensure the investment is justified.
While some may suggest there are six-figure jobs that don’t require a degree, these only make up 1% of our economy.
The truth is that automation is taking over repetitive tasks in the manufacturing sector, and other jobs are sent overseas where labor is cheaper. The positions that remain for Americans are those that are complex and require people to solve problems by working together.
In fact, as of 2021, 68% of jobs required either education or training beyond high school. This is especially true of rapidly growing industries like computer and data processing- where education is a necessity to keep up with the evolving nature of the field.
All this is to say that to participate in highly competitive careers that pay more, you can’t really put a price on education
Benefits of a College Degree
A solid body of evidence supports the benefits of having a college degree, not only for the individual but for society as a whole.
College grads make $32,000 more a year than those who just attended high school; that’s $1.2 million over a lifetime!
Furthermore, they are more than twice as likely to volunteer and contribute 3.5 times more to charity.
They are also 3.5 times less likely to become impoverished, nearly five times less likely to be imprisoned, and rely less on government services such as Medicaid, housing subsidies, unemployment benefits, and other public assistance programs.
College grads also contribute to their communities through volunteer work and leadership, which enrich the fabric of our society. Making a college not only beneficial for the individual but for the masses as well.
Rising Above the Threshold
Perhaps the biggest argument against attending college is the financial viability. Are students better off financially post-degree than if they had not attended college at all?
This concept of a return on an educational investment is called Threshold 0 and has been studied in depth by the Institute of Higher Education Policy (IHEP). In other words, students are able to make back what they’ve put into their education (Threshold 0) and then some.
The IHEP found that 83% of college institutions were able to accomplish this within 10 years of students starting college.
There is no evidence to support that the remainder of the establishments in this study meet Threshold 0 as they are private for-profits and non-profits that don’t share their information.
Yet it’s clear the return on investment is there in the majority of cases and should be encouraging to anyone looking into pursuing a degree.
America’s Mixed Views on College
Unfortunately, a majority return on investment is not enough, as Americans have mixed views on how effectively college prepares its students for the workforce.
A 2022 Gallup Poll shows that while 92% of educators believe graduates are ready for the workforce, only 11% of employers agree.
That is a big disparity.
The missing component here for the companies surveyed was soft skills- which they feel make up the greatest skill gap and are just as important as technical skills but are not part of the college curriculum.
Luckily, these professional skills can be taught starting at the middle school and high school levels with leadership programs and supplemented with internships once the students start their university careers.
Life Skills Learned in College
Despite the above arguments, the college experience does teach young people valuable lessons.
Without the safety net of home, young adults are forced to face the minutia of life alone. How to spend or not spend money wisely, as well as how to manage time effectively, are both taught by campus life. While this may not be true of all college students, it is true for those leaving home for the first time.
Gaining a global perspective is also part of college that is experienced by all and one that is especially beneficial for those who didn’t grow up in diverse communities.
Teamwork is an invaluable lesson that is part of almost all university-level courses at one point or another and one that directly correlates to the real-world working environment.
Apart from the transferable skills you learn through the education process, you are also introduced to concepts that can open the doors of innovations- and that alone is worth its weight in gold.
A Risk Worth Taking
It’s important to put the world we live into the context of this debate.
The job market is filled with talented individuals all vying for the same seats at the table.
Anything short of what they offer a prospective employer puts you out of the race.
While it’s true that college requires an investment in time and money, the result is not just knowledge but a better version of you.
Being surrounded by new perspectives and cultures helps you grow into a well-rounded professional, and the ability to think through a problem critically is the backbone of a successful career.
Getting a degree not only allows you to compete in today’s workforce but it also opens up a world of opportunities that were closed to you before.
By using the technical and professional skills you learn to your advantage, you have the ability to change your future into what you want it to be.
And that, my friends, is always a risk worth taking.
Will you take it?