How Much Is A Degree Worth?

Even if you think that universities should be purely a place to learn and expand your mind, it is surely obvious that we have a system which does not encourage students to learn well.

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This post originally appeared on the Irish Times Student Hub

When you graduate from college, you feel like you should be qualified for something.

After all, you spent three to five years reading, cramming and studying. All of this knowledge should be useful, otherwise what was the point of learning it?

For better or worse, going to university has always been considered necessary in order to get a good job. The corollary of this is going to university should in fact lead to a job.

It used to be the case that having an undergraduate degree would make you instantly employable. However, now that the number of people with degrees has increased this no longer seems to be the case.

You leave university and realise that while education may be a prerequisite for certain jobs, it certainly doesn’t assist you in getting them. All those years of study haven’t prepared you for the ‘real world’.

Even having a post-graduate qualification does not increase your odds by much. The Gradireland recruitment survey for 2014/15 found 53% of employers saw post-graduates and work experience as being of equal value, and 29 % said they valued work experience more.

Employers point out that a university degree will not teach you how to write a formal email, or office etiquette.

But there are a number of skills that we could and should be learning at university level. The Gradireland survey found that employers felt our current graduates were lacking in communication skills and the ability to problem-solve. They also commented that we are not good in working in teams or thinking critically.

This should not come as a surprise. Our university system is based on lecturers talking to hundreds of students at a time. The students are then asked to show what they learned by writing an essay or doing an exam.

There are of course variations depending on the type of degree you do. Interestingly, the courses like education or medicine which include other things like practical experience or a lab requirement also tend to have higher employment levels.

Even if you think that universities should be purely a place to learn and expand your mind, it is surely obvious that we have a system which does not encourage students to learn well.

How are we supposed to solve problems and show initiative when we are only expected to learn off information to parrot back later? How are we supposed to learn any communication skills when the only real times we are expected to communicate are when we are writing essays or exams.

The only way we can learn how to be good at team working is by having assignments which require us to work in teams. The only way we can learn to communicate is by having courses which include presentations by students, or debates. The only way we can learn to think critically is by providing us with situations which require us to do this.

Universities keep the current system in place not because it works, but because it’s cheap and does not require as much of a lecturer’s time as varied continuous assessment would.

As for learning how to answer the phone in an office, a number of courses now include an internship component.

It is surely much better to do the internship as part of the continuous learning of university rather than as a stop-gap until you can finally get a real paying job, especially since many of the internships linked to courses are required to provide feedback.

Even if improving the quality of our education and increasing college based internships doesn’t shift the number of unemployed graduates, at least we’d leave university knowing more and being better prepared for ‘the real world’.

We are paying universities thousands of euros a year and getting a poor return on our investments. We don’t retain much of the information we learned while cramming the night before the exam. We leave lacking basic skills required by both employees and grown adults.

It is no wonder employers don’t think a degree is worth much.

Author: Liz O'Malley

Freelance journalist, sometime law student, political junkie, pasta addict.

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