An estimated $800 billion in student loans are crushing much of America. With some critics calling college too easy, and statistics showing that college doesn’t guarantee employment, is it even worth it?
Consider the following:
- 50 percent of young college grads are either unemployed or under-employed in positions that don’t utilize their degree, according to an analysis of government data for the Associated Press.
- The number of Ph.D. graduates on food stamps tripled in the last decade, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates both dropped out of Harvard; Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College.
- The average cost of college tuition has quadrupled since 1980.
- 60 Minutes recently ran a story about PayPal Founder Peter Thiel’s new program to encourage innovative students to drop out of college to actively pursue entrepreneurship.
On the other hand, studies show that people who earn a college degree will, on the average, earn 84 percent more over their lifetime than those with only a high school diploma. And in this economy, a college degree might be the edge that gets you that minimum-wage job.
So perhaps the issue isn’t going to college, it’s what you study in college, and what you plan to do afterward. Mr. Thiel acknowledges that higher education is essential for certain careers.
“I’m saying that people should think hard about why they’re going to college. If your life plan is to be a professor or to be a doctor or some other career where you need a specific credential you should and probably have to go to college. If your plan is to do something very different you should think really hard about it.”
From my own experience B.C. (before children) working in Human Resources, I also know that it’s not just the degree that matters, but what real-life experience students have. The engineering firm I worked for consistently preferred graduates who had solid internship experience over ones who had waited tables. That seems like a tough call when you’re a student trying to make ends meet, but in the engineering world, we’re talking about paid internships.
As a parent looking at the possibility of having four kids in college at the same time, the financial future is daunting. Currently, my three daughters aspire to be a pediatrician, a veterinarian, and an astrophysicist. College is pretty much key for those jobs. Our six-year-old son wants to be either an architect or a Lego video game designer. Again, probably some college there.
But I firmly believe that not everyone needs to go to college, and I’ll encourage my kids to consider all their options instead of just assuming that they have to go to college. There are a lot of great careers that begin at trade schools, or in the military, or in the working world. I worked my way through college, working full-time and taking classes at night. I do hope my kids don’t have to take that path, because it takes freaking forever.
But when we consider college, and college loans, we’ll be taking a hard look at whether it’s worth it. Check out Yahoo’s interactive education return on investment calculator, below, for a look at how over 750 jobs pay off. Oddly enough, it doesn’t include “astrophysicist,” “pediatrician” or “Lego game designer.”
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto)