It’s the fundamental question: Is a college education worth it?
Given the current economic climate, with a mixture of high unemployment rates and steep tuition hikes, critics charge that a college degree may not be worth the cost.
Most of the critics who argue that college is not worth the cost are economists, said Mike Rose, a professor of education at UCLA and author of "Why School? Reclaiming Education for All of Us."
Critics point out that there are a lot of mid-level skilled jobs that are available right now that only require a certificate program or graduation from a community college, Rose said. They claim those jobs, which include nurses and technicians, can provide a decent wage and are unlikely to be outsourced. Furthermore, they argue that it is not worth racking up a huge debt of $80,000 to $100,000 and only come out of college without having learned anything job-specific.
However, Rose believes that a four-year college education is still worth the cost. He said that on average, college graduates will earn more money than their peers who did not graduate, with students coming from a low income background standing to gain the most. Graduates are also more likely to vote, participate in civic organizations, and be healthy, although he noted that this was correlation and not necessarily causation.
Most importantly, Rose said, going to college opens the possibility for students to discover new things and find a new interest or career path. Students also develop “bodies of knowledge” from meeting people from all over the world with different backgrounds and points of view.
Rose noted that a four-year degree doesn’t automatically guarantee students an entry into the labor market, as opposed to a couple decades ago, and students can walk out of a certification program with a good chance of finding a job. However, he pointed out that there are still certain jobs that look for people who can write well, conducting research, and analyze sources, skills that are developed in college.
There is also another reason Rose is optimistic. “At some point, the economy is going to shift at some point and at that time, maybe a four-year degree will be more marketable,” he said.
Marty Nemko, a college consultant and author of The All-in-One College Guide, feels that students would gain more from a short-term career preparation program at a community college, an apprenticeship, or on-the-job training.
While Nemko said that while the current economy has not made a college degree irrelevant, there has been an oversupply of college graduates from previous generations and hiring costs have increased significantly. He added that college makes the most sense to students who are motivated to study hard, do well academically, and take a major that would impress employers as opposed to doing something else, like starting their own business.
Rosalind Peppy, a third-year music student at UCLA, doesn’t regret her choice of going to college over attending a conservatory.
Peppy said that college has helped her not just academically, but socially as well. She said college helps student connect with a diverse group of people, break stereotypes, and “see more of life in general.”
“Once you have a degree, you can go out on the real world, people will look at you different, and you don’t want to be the only person on the job market who doesn’t have one,” she said.