Is college worth it?

I have written before about my skepticism over the need for everyone to get a college education (here and here) as well as my extreme opposition to student loans and our current system of funding higher education (here, here and here). Today, via Joanne Jacobs, we find out that Charles Miller who led the Commission on the Future of Higher Education is now arguing that the earnings benefit for having a college degree is probably much less than has been previously stated.

Rather than being 1 million over a career, the number according to Charles Miller is more like $280K. Given that a private college education now routinely runs about $100K over 4 years with room and board and adding in the cost of interest on student loans, as well as the missed opportunity costs of having money which could otherwise be used to invest in a 401K or other investment vehicle going towards paying off student loans, this number really calls into question whether it makes sense to insist on a college diploma as a requirement for most decent jobs.

I have long thought that the credential inflation we have seen over the last couple of decades (requiring ever higher credentials for professional positions) is the result the failure of our high schools to adequately prepare students to enter into the workforce. It used to be that if you had a high school diploma, an employer could assume that you knew how to do math, write coherently, understand written and verbal instructions and complete tasks given to you. Today, even some students on the college track lack these basic skills so a college diploma is now often what employers rely on to indicate that a potential employee has basic skills.

I personally think it would be great if we could develop some sort of credentialing system which could be a substitute for a college diploma. Like a test which could be used to demonstrate that you have mastered the skills needed to work in accounting or computer science or to teach grade schoolers. It would be very helpful for self motivated kids who don’t need to spend 4 years in college to learn their area of interest and allow adults who have the skills needed to move into a profession without having to go through the time and expense of returning to school.

I am absolutely certain that using student loans to fund a person’s entry into middle class jobs will have serious long term implications for our country, so perhaps once everything has fallen apart, we’ll decide to take a look at something like this. It would be nice if people would think about these things before people’s lives get ruined, but that seems to be too much to ask these days.

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2 thoughts on “Is college worth it?

  1. Wow, Rebecca, this really struck a chord with me. Having spent a lot of time in college (2 grad degrees, mostly worthless, tho’ interesting at the time, and a lot of debt) I had ample chance to observe the incurious and perpetually drunk undergrads wasting mommy and daddy’s money and for what? I rarely met a student who was truly engaged, or one who was able to articulate an idea clearly. We’re being sold an industrial product, friends, called Education, supposedly leading to a Career, and Money, which equals Happiness. In our family we’re trying to de-school ourselves of the notion that each of our children needs to go to college, or at least, a lot of college, and we’re hoping to find a college (like Berea) that won’t keep us or our children in perpetual debt. Having seen the power of our homeschool journey in the hearts and minds of our 3 children, I’m beginning to wonder if it would be possible to homeschool parts of a college-level education with some input from our local community college and apprentice type activities….

    Musings for the journey,
    Hippimama

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  2. This is a pet peeve with me, what with 2 teens approaching college age. Why should it take 7 years to become a lawyer, for example? 2 years of undergrad should be plenty to develop the writing and analytical skills to enter law school. Why aren’t there more colleges that actually prepare a student for a real job at the end of 4 years? College is more like an expensive 4-year finishing school for upper-middle-class kids than anything else.

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