Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Is college worth it?

I graduated from a state university over 20 years ago.  I think I got a good education and, at the time, the tuition and fees were reasonable (at least when I started), although it was difficult to get into classes required for graduation in your major.  Had I not spent a year in England on exchange, I would have likely been on the five year plan.

The school, like all schools (state school and private), was starting to increase tuition costs.  I'm glad I don't have kids since, looking at what tuition costs are, I do not think I could send them to university, even if they were able to pay half.

The rule in my house was, I had to put away at least 10% from any jobs I had into my college account.  I decided on a plan of thirds, as it was easier--one third of my pay into my college account, one third into my personal savings account, and one third was for me to spend how I liked.  Summers and spring breaks, I worked.  I wondered who these students who could go off on spring break trips were.  I had my fun--maybe too much of it at times--but I also had jobs while I went to school.  I got stipends at the school paper.  I worked as a janitor in the dining commons.  I worked in the student store. And during vacations I got jobs in retail in the mall near where I lived.  Granted, I probably could have gone on a spring break trip with money I saved, but it just didn't occur to me.  When I was in England, however, I traveled all over the place since it would have been stupid not to.  In fact, in England I felt like a proper student since I couldn't get a job there, being a foreigner and all.  It was kind of nice.

I did not graduate and get my dream job.  I graduated into a recession--I got laid off, then got a job as a receptionist.  I didn't get a job where I was paid decently until I moved overseas.  Had it not been for that job, I would not have been able to buy my place (or learn to speak Japanese).

That's not why I went to college, though.  I went because I really did want to learn about the world and to delve more deeply into my chosen field of study. But university was always touted as the way to get a good job, something you had to do in order to either get a good job or advance in your job, and that you needed it to make decent money.

Now, in my neck of the woods, you do need a bachelor's degree in order to get a secretarial job, which is ridiculous.  But I think that's because the market is flooded with college graduates, and employers can now afford to be choosy.  With the economy the way it is, and with people looking at the jobs you're expected to have an undergraduate degree for, a lot of people are wondering if it's worth it.

I did go on to get my master's degree--mainly because my employer paid for it.  I figured it would be a wasted opportunity to not do that.  But the degree was mainly for me to advance in my job (it was not in the same field as my undergraduate), not because I loved the subject matter at hand.  If I felt like I could do well without the degree (and I didn't have the tuition reimbursement), I wouldn't have bothered, honestly.

I really wish there were more vocational training opportunities (not for-profit "universities" that charge more than my university and push their students into loans with exorbitant rates) that prepared people for good jobs.  I think wanting training for a good job is smart, and I don't think university is for everyone. (I also think that if you want to be able to train for a specific job and learn for the love of learning, you should have the opportunity to do so.  I don't think the two are or should be mutually exclusive.)  What I don't think is smart is the idea that job applicants for almost any job have at least a bachelor's degree.  Unless the job itself requires knowledge of a certain field, that's silly.

I did not go on to work in the field that my major was in.  That's okay with me--I don't regret my degree at all.  But I think a lot of people are urged to go to university and study certain things because it will get them a good job.  And I'm skeptical of that.  I really wish there were good opportunities for people to get the training they need for good jobs.  Right now, I don't think there are a lot of options for that and so people are doing what they think will get them the best chance for good opportunities.

What do you all think?  Is college worth it?  Do we need to revisit the idea what a college education can do for us?

14 comments:

  1. I have some of these same thoughts, Pamela. I graduated with a BA in December of 2007 right when the economy was sinking. I've applied for jobs in and out of my field, but no such luck. I continue to work as a substitute because it is available to me. I seriously thought about going for my Master's this summer and even applied, but I just don't want the debt and there is no assurance out there that I will get a good job. I'm going to do what I can with what I have and see what happens. Wish me luck! lol

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    1. I'm with you--it's not going to be helpful to get into debt! I wouldn't have even bothered with the Master's degree if my workplace didn't pay for it. I have friends who trained for specific fields only to see the work in the fields dry up when they finished the coursework. It can go both ways, I suppose. Le sigh.

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  2. Hi Pamela,
    I have mixed thoughts on this. My two daughters will begin university in one year. I want them to have every opportunity and don't want to close any doors. They will be applying for scholarships, and between my husband, myself and their own savings, we may be able to afford it.

    My son worked all through university, school year and vacation periods. His job during school actually made him a better applicant when he graduated and was applying for career positions. So working while in school is definitely a plus, for more than just the money.

    I was an Art History major in college. It was what I was passionate about. University work in this field actually gave me credibility when it came to getting a job as a commercial artist. So in my case, I was able to get work because of my studies. (I hope my talent had something to do with getting a job, too).

    My husband on the other hand, he has two Bachelor's and one Master's. I don't think these degrees have done a single thing for his career. They do give him something he could fall back on. With a Master's he could go into teaching if he wanted. This may be something he considers as a second career, later in life.

    I want my last two children to go to university to expand their minds, learn things that they wouldn't have considered before, deepen their learning in their chosen fields, but I also hope they will land a good paying job at the end of it.

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    1. Isn't it interesting how differently it can go for different people? That's great that you work in your field. I didn't know you were a commercial artist--how cool!

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  3. We've talked about this on our blog before-- basically What is College For... is it a coming of age experience or is it job training. There seem to be class differences in beliefs about its purpose. For us, college was expected and not thought of as job training... for my partner job training was the main purpose and he had to know what he wanted to do before entering college.

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    1. For me, it wasn't expected in that my folks would have been fine with me not going, but they strongly encouraged it. I'm glad I went.

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  4. I also have mixed feelings on this and appreciate that you are asking this question! Frankly, at the cost of college these days, I think it is reasonable to expect kids to pursue a career. Knowledge for knowledge's sake is nice, but there are less-expensive ways of obtaining it. I have the advantage of being the youngest of 4 kids--I have watched my siblings raise their children and noticed that my brother's kids were encouraged to "try out" different careers during junior high and high school to determine if they would really like a certain job and if they had an accurate idea of what the job entailed. Of my 7 nieces and nephews, those two kids were by far the most focused, finished their degrees in the least amount of time, and found jobs in their chosen fields soon after graduation. My summary of this is--encourage hands-on experience at an early age so when the time comes to make decisions about a field of study, kids have a better understanding of their likes and abilities.

    Along these same lines, I think you need to do your homework before you choose a field--what's the job market? Are you willing to move to find a job? Is the pay worth it (I am not trying to be materialistic, just realistic--for instance, if you want to be a social worker, are you willing to live on that amount of money? Will you be able to pay off your college loans with what you are earning?) Remember, colleges and universities are businesses, too, and they are trying to entice you to use your hard-earned cash to study with them. I'm not convinced they are that concerned about the job market you will encounter after you receive your degree.

    Some jobs require a degree. I can't think of a job in a medical field that doesn't require one so if that is your aim, you need to pursue the proper training. My husband is a biologist and has his master's degree--he has definitely used his education and he would probably have even more opportunities with a doctorate. I am an occupational therapist with my bachelor's (a master's is now required--I've been grandfathered in ... ack, my age is showing!) so in both of our cases, a degree has been necessary.

    I hope this isn't too rambling! I'm really trying to think this through while my kids are still young.

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    1. Kris, thanks for your thoughts! I agree.

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  5. I didn't graduate from college....and I'm doing just fine. At the same time, I wish I had graduated from college because I would have more job options.

    Overall, I wouldn't change anything!

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    1. Your job is kind of cool though (I saw you post about it on your blog).

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    2. I agree, Holly. Your job keeps in the forefront of your mind what is important about life. I find with my job, too, that it is helpful for keeping perspective--I work a lot with rehabbing accident victims/cancer patients/etc. and if I need a reality check (and so often I do!) I just need to look at my patients to see the blessings I have.

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  6. A lot of my friends feel like we were pushed into University when we left college (not like US "college", more like the last two years of school). Many have gone straight back into jobs that they absolutely could've done (and already got up to a higher level) without their degree.

    Coming from a rural tourism area (Cornwall) however, it's difficult to get a specialist job as pretty much everything revolves around tourism. I will definitely have to stay out of Cornwall to get a proper scientific research job after my PhD, which is a shame because it's my home and it's beautiful.

    I definitely agree that University isn't for everyone. I wouldn't even say it's for MOST people. You have to love learning and want to go into a career where specialist knowledge is definitely required. I think most people would be better off doing apprenticeships (yes they're appallingly badly paid, but at least you're not PAYING!). I think people need degrees for science, engineering, accountancy, basically any truly Academic field, rather than things like computer studies, where really you'd be better off working with an expert learning your job from them!

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    1. Kind of off topic: When I went to poly for a year in England, I noticed how many mature students were there and how they could (at the time, I don't know if things have changed) decide later in life to go to poly or uni. I loved that. Because we went to a poly, there were hands on courses that even I knew were going to be irrelevant when I graduated (technology moves fast). ITA that there are fields where apprenticeship and training should work just as well.

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  7. Thank you for your thoughts, everybody! I agree with you--it's great to learn for a love of learning, but it's okay to want the practical stuff as well.

    I'm glad we've got more options via Open Course Ware. Another win for having technology.

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