Free Essay On The Value Of A College Education
The value of a college degree has been in decline in recent years. Yet at the same time, more Americans are going to college than in previous generations. Many of these students find themselves buried in debt upon graduation, and with few job prospects to boot. However, the evidence is strong that college is still a worthwhile venture. The worth of a college education can't be measured simply in terms of economic payoff, but must also be viewed in terms of the inherent value of knowledge. The value of going to college would be greater if it was more affordable.
Many recent college graduates are having a hard time discharging their student loan debt. This is in large part due to the fact that it is often extremely difficult to secure a high-paying job straight out of college, depending on what your major was. For example, a student whose major was Spanish will have a hard time finding work in an industry that's not service or retail. A student whose major was finance will have an easier time of finding a job in a lucrative field, because the major imparts skills that lead directly to a career. The fact that some majors have high job placement rates while other majors have very low job placement rates dissuades many students from choosing majors that they would otherwise prefer, but carry lower financial returns.
The question is often asked loudly these days, “is college worth it?” This is a question that has no definitive yes-or-no answer, and the answer itself must vary from person to person. In some cases, college is quite clearly worth it; for some people, it leads directly to a well-paying job, and the student segues directly from school to their career with no interlude in between. These students – the ones who are successful in obtaining an retaining a job immediately after school – are more likely to vote that yes, college is worth it. However, those who do not as easily and readily find success and fulfillment after college may be in disagreement about the value of their degree.
On average, despite the recent debate about its worth, the evidence seems to suggest that college is indeed worth it. According to an article in the online magazine The Economist, full-time working college graduates from ages 25 to 32 earn about $17,500 more annually than their peers with only high-school diplomas. That is a significant amount of money, although not all degrees impart added earning equally. An arts major may only earn slightly above the rate that a high school graduate earns, while a business or engineering major may earn order-of-magnitude higher wages. This discrepancy illustrates one of the reasons for the debate.
In addition, a majority of college graduates acquire an enormous amount of debt that they must begin paying off at the start of their first job post-graduation. Most students end up tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars in debt. Many end up paying off the loans in monthly installments for decades. Some people who graduated school when they were 21 do not finish repaying their loans until they are in their thirties and forties. In 2013, the average student loan debt was $30,000 according to an article by US News & World Report. For someone earning $30,000 a year, which is a highly desirable rate for someone just graduating college, that figure represents a year's salary. Since 1983, the cost of university has risen by more than five times the rate of inflation. In the last 14 years alone, the price of a college education rose from 23 percent to 38 percent of median annual earnings, according to another article by The Economist, titled “Not what it used to be.”
The article by US News & World Report found that nearly 7 out of 10 graduating seniors in 2013 left school with an average of $28,400 in student loan debt. However, the severity of the debt and the likelihood that students were leaving with it was found to vary vastly between states and between colleges. For example, depending on which state a student attended school, the average debt amount could be as low as $2,500 or as high as $70,000. According to Lauren Asher, president of The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), “Where you go to college matters, and the kind of loans you have matter, too. Federal student loans come with crucial consumer protections like income-based repayment plans, while private loans offer little or no relief when you hit a rough patch. Indeed, where you go to school matters, but so do the types of loans you take out.
In total, 49 out of 129 colleges reported to TICAS that more than 90 percent of their students graduated with debt. And for many of these graduates, depending on the amount and the types of loans they took out, repaying the debt will be an arduous process that takes years to complete. Some take this as an argument against going to college at all. The time spent in college and the years after that spent repaying student loan debt are years that the student could be spending making money that they get to keep for themselves. Going to college delays a person's entry into the workforce by at least four years. Those who begin working immediately after high school will have already been working and saving money for four years by the time a college student graduates. But over a lifetime, the wages of individual's with a bachelors degree outperform the wages of those with only a high school diploma. Going to college seems to make economic sense, even with the weight of debt that it carries.
Though many are able to succeed in college and beyond, there are still many students who are left behind. Around 40 percent of students who enroll in college do not graduate within four to six years, and many of those who do graduate are not able to find steady work after graduation. Higher education is most rewarding for students who are intelligent, motivated, and passionate about their field of study. The students who have outlined clear career goals are the students who are most likely to pave their way towards success. Conversely, the students who have no career plans and who lack direction and sense of purpose will struggle more than their motivated peers.
As college continues to become more and more expensive, the value per dollar spent on a college education continues to decline. Not only are the financial returns of a degree shrinking, but so are the educational returns. A college education no longer entails the level of prestige as it did fifty years ago, and a college education no longer ensures that the person holding it is a well-rounded and well-informed individual. The quality of the graduates that a university produces has been decreasing since 1990, while the expenditures on instruction have been increasing. According to the article “Not what it used to be,” in 1962 one cent of every dollar was spent on higher education in the United States. Today that number has risen to three cents of every dollar. Despite the high proportion of spending on education relative to other countries, between 1992 and 2003, the literacy of college-educated adults declined, according to a federal survey. Literacy is defined as “using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one's goals and to develop ones knowledge and potential.” This decrease in literacy may be due to the fact that the reading requirements of most college courses has decreased as well. According to the article in The Economist, close to one third of college students avoid taking classes that involve more than 40 pages of reading over the entire term.
Even though the literacy rates of college grads is lower now than a decade ago, still many students are receiving A's in their classes and maintaining high GPAs. The number of grades that are A's given at public universities has increased by 28 percent since 1960. Today, 43 percent of all grades given at 4-year schools are A's. Grade inflation is a real problem in America's public universities. It gives students a false sense of achievement and security, and belies the problem that American students are lagging behind their international peers.
In an article by the Washington Post published on March 2, 2015, it was reported that a test was administered to adults in 23 countries, assessing literacy, math, and technical problem solving skills. The goal of the test was to determine how prepared people are to engage in the complexities of a mondern workplace environment. Out of the 23 countries that participated in the test, in all categories, Americans ranked at the bottom or close to it. The test, called the PIACC test, was developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD. The test was meant to evaluate the skill levels of people from ages 16 to 65. In written literacy, U.S. respondents scored higher than only three countries; in math, they scored the lowest; in technical problem-solving, American scores were the second from the bottom. Madeline Goodman, a researcher with the organization that administered the test, noted, “There was just no place where we performed well.”
Not even was the score higher for those with a college education. Those with masters degrees outperformed their peers in only three countries, Ireland, Spain, and Poland. And those who scored in the 90th percentile in the United States were still among the lowest scores internationally. In addition, the gap in scores between the best and worst test-takers was higher than the gap for 14 other countries. The implications of the results of the PIACC test are that America's higher education system is in serious need of reform.
The evidence is as stark as it is unsettling. American college students are paying more and more for an education that guarantees little in the way of either a well-paying job or basic knowledge and skills. However, that is not to say that Americans should stop going to college altogether because it isn't worth it. On average, college graduates make more money than their peers with only a high school diploma, and on average, those who attend university are more roundly and highly educated than those who don't. Going to college is still more likely to be a better alternative than not going to college, at least for some people. What needs to happen is change within the college education system. Too much emphasis is placed on simply obtaining the skills they need to perform a job. There should be more focus on the act of learning as an end in itself, rather than as a means to an end. Schools should foster and nurture a love of learning in their students, so that learning continues throughout the students' lives, and doesn't come to an abrupt end once the students leave school.
American universities are in need of change. As Magdalena Kay remarks in her essay, “A New Course,” “Real innovation must build upon basic knowledge.” A university education should provide a platform from which students may leap into any field of knowledge and succeed. Only when colleges and students realize the importance of learning as inherently valuable in itself, will students begin to see real return on their investments.
Frankel, Todd C. “U.S. millenials post 'abysmal' scores in tech skills test, lag behind foreign peers.” The Washington Post. 2 March 2015. Web. 10 March 2015.
Bidwell, Allie. “Average Student Loan Debt Approaches $30,000.” U.S. News and World Report. 13 November 2014. Web. 10 March 2015.
“Higher Education: Not what it used to be.” The Economist. 1 December 2012. Web. 10 March 2015.
“Higher Education: Is college worth it?” The Economist. 5 April 2014. Web. 10 March 2015.