Nvate Commentary: The Worth of a College Education

Zoha Syed

For a long time, a college education has been considered fundamental. It has been instilled in our minds that few prospects remain in the “real world” without a degree attached to your name. Even accomplishing career goals is synonymous with having a college background that’ll help you do it.

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According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the fall 2013, almost 21.8 million students were expected to be back at college. Not only that, almost 71 percent of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher had a full-time job in 2011. The statistics compose a staggering generalization regarding the value of college.

But at the end of the day, what is college worth? Does it merit financial investment and years of commitment, or is it simply an add-on that has more drawbacks than benefits?

Degrees: Essential for Personal and Career Growth

For many looking to go into competitive fields, college provides a foundation, which is often considered a prerequisite. The skills that many employers in scientific or business markets look for are considered acquired by a prospective applicant. Many of these are knowledge-based attributes that can conveniently be learned in a classroom setting. So it just becomes natural to expect college as the precursor to the career.

“To me, it most definitely is worth it,” Rohini Krishnan, a pre-med student at the University of Washington, said, “especially if you’re taking STEM subjects, skills there can’t be self-taught, and well, most jobs do require a college degree.”

To an extent this is true. With in-demand fields such as medicine on the rise, an individual needs some sort of practice arena where they can fine-tune skills. You can’t expect a soon-to-be doctor to practice surgery on an “Operation” board game. On the flip side, where else can they work on cadavers in a controlled setting?

The same proves true with careers in engineering, business, or education. The fact that college serves as an easily accessible venue where people can work on perfecting techniques crucial to a career is something extremely valuable to an employer. It’s also practical for an individual—a game plan is set from the get-go and all a student really has to do is go with the flow.

Time Well-Spent Elsewhere

For many, college provides more cons than pros. It’s expensive, coercing many young people to sign their lives away to big banks through student loans. It’s often not satisfying due to the rigidity of a curriculum. Thus a choice may be made, after a trial run, to bypass it altogether.

“I personally think there is value to a college education. It really does teach you a lot more than high school,” Elise Marie, an aspiring tattoo artist and former student at the Northwest College of Art and Design, said. “When you’re studying for a particular major the information is applicable to a career. But that doesn’t apply to all career and life choices people have. It’s only really important for certain jobs one would want to get.”

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Even though it’s encouraged left and right, college isn’t the cure-all when it comes to satisfaction in a career or even in life. The fact that it’s so easily accessible becomes a negative—many people just expect to go to college without actually thinking if it would be right for them.

Furthermore, many career pathways don’t even require college. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, dropped out of Harvard after his second year. He went on to establish a multi-billion dollar company that is synonymous today with world connection. Numerous more practical careers also exist today, ranging from web developer to commercial pilot.

The Verdict: Is College Worth it?

Learning is a personalized process. It’s something unique to an individual that escapes the binding constraints of labels. If college really is an extension of the learning process, another venue where there is an abundance of information to be discovered, then it is simply foolish to apply labels of worth to it. The experiences gained in college are personalized, thus it is only expected that the decision to go to college will be personalized as well.

“I think college is what you make it,” Michael Pavlov, a theatre undergrad at the University of Northern Colorado this fall, said, “but you need to be realistic with the financial realities of your degree. Be honest why you’re doing it.”

At the end of the day, college’s worth becomes proportional to the individual in question. Ultimately, worth becomes a malleable concept that may expand or contract based on situations. Sure circumstances may make college a more or less attractive option. But it will remain an entity void of overarching generalizations.

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