Why College is Still Worth It

Part of my job includes keeping current on the news regarding education: policy, opinions, new research, and all that fun stuff. One of the things that I’ve been seeing more and more often is an op-ed piece written by someone with a college education about why going to college isn’t worth it anymore.

There are several recurring points to most of these arguments. Here are some of them.

  1. Borrowing heavily, be it through student loans or credit cards or bank loans, to finance education isn’t the best option for a lot of people. (But it might be the only option they perceive as available to them.)
  2. Too many students are getting “degrees to nowhere,” as one senator in Utah put it.
  3. Education doesn’t lead to employment.

Some of these are excellent points. Student loan debt, while not usually as financially devastating as credit card debt, is still money that needs to be repaid and generally best kept to a minimum. It would be really awesome if everyone’s parents opened a college savings account for each of their children at birth, and contributed to it regularly. And then when the student got old enough to have a paper route or a part time job, the student contributed to it as well. And it would be totally super-duper if all students earned scholarships! Yes. But that isn’t the way things really are. For a lot of students, there’s a choice between borrowing for tuition & fees & books so they can go to college, or not going at all.

Some of these are malarkey. For instance, the “degrees to nowhere” slam is annoying on several fronts, and not only because I majored in English in college. This stance assumes that the sole measure of worth for a college graduate is whether or not they have a job that pays them well. It doesn’t consider whether or not students learned anything, if they find their jobs interesting or worthwhile, and whether or not they vote, volunteer, and donate blood in their communities. And of course it doesn’t assign any intrinsic value to education itself. Heavens, no. Education is only worth what someone will pay you for it. Learning for the sheer love of learning is soooo 17th century.


*Cough, wheeze.* Oooh, sorry. I’m over the sarcasm attack for a moment.

Anyway, I’m joining the fray. I may live to regret this, but I think it’s worth saying. COLLEGE IS STILL WORTH IT.

Yeah, it may be old fashioned, but I believe this largely because of the way I evaluate the “worth” of higher education. For me, it’s not a simple 1-to-1 correlation of education-to-earnings.

  • Learning for learning’s sake is a beautiful thing. And honestly? I don’t think it really matters what you choose to study, be it humanities or a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) field. The very process of learning benefits the learner. And there are advantages to all types of learning, not just those that traditionally occur within universities in the U.S. today. For a lot of people, structured higher education provides a framework and an impetus to learn that they might not take up otherwise.
  • Getting a chance to explore different fields – general education requirements – is really a good idea. Unless you think that well-rounded people are overrated and it would be best if we were only programmed to do one thing and one thing only.
  • Money isn’t everything for everyone. Yes, it is necessary to be able to earn a living wage and that is a complex problem on its own. But happiness doesn’t only come to people who make over $100,000 a year. While the research has shown college graduates to earn more money on average than their less educated counterparts, that doesn’t mean that students should pursue what they perceive to be the most lucrative major just because of the money.

I can think of volumes more to say about this, but I think I’ll end it here for today. Chime in on this with your own stories. I would love to hear them.

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  1. This is a tricky question for someone who is currently finishing undergrad as a working mom, with a husband finishing up his JD and who will be pursuing a Master’s in the fall. I haven’t seen any of the payoffs that are supposed to come with education, yet. Financially anyway. Education is extremely important to my husband and I, in that it helps us in so many areas of our lives. We are able to read a newspaper and understand the events happening in the Middle East and form a genuine opinion on the matter because we have taken history classes. We are able to make financial decisions because we have taken economics as well as math courses.

    The thing I love most about higher education, though, is that it makes me one of those “Well Rounded” people you mentioned. I have knowledge from all different aspects, including the history of the area that I now live (thanks to History 472), how the Western United States was formed geologically (thanks Geology 202), what gonorrhea looks like (Thanks Human Sexuality 402), and how to ask for the restroom in Spanish (Spanish 101). This is only a semester’s worth of classes. I still remember things from good old Westminny, and my 3 years there. Not only did I learn the things from the courses themselves, but practical information like how to work a deadline, how to function on only a few hours of sleep (pretty practical in the adult world), how to use computer programs, how to research a subject, and on and on.

    Higher ed is really important, and that’s why I’m dedicated to pay for my child’s education. I know it’s kind of a hot button issue, but I firmly believe that if I want my child to go to college, I should provide a good fund for him to be able to do so. Thanks for the post Sumiko! Insightful as always!

  2. Thanks so much for such an in-depth response! Those other, non-content things you mentioned like working under a deadline — those are so crucial to everyday life as well. And good on you for saving for your son already. That will be a difference that he’ll be hugely grateful for someday.


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