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.

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’.

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Crisis of College

The question ‘Is College Worth It?’ has really and truly been put to bed. The Pew Research Center Study this year on higher education has found that on average a bachelor’s degree in the US will earn a graduate $500,000 on top of the average industrial wage over the course of a 40 year career, taking into account student debt. This difference is roughly double what it was two decades ago.

A college graduate earns 98% more per hour than someone who never went to college. 53% of college grads are satisfied with their jobs compared to 37% of non-grads. 22% of those who never go to college end up in poverty, compared to 5.8% of those with a bachelor’s degree. These numbers don’t include those who went on to study a masters or PhD.

The question of whether or not college is worth it also misses the main issue of economic mobility. In the past it was possible to get good working class jobs which paid wages able to pull large groups up into the middle class. With low skill jobs moving to developing countries and many career paths blocked to those without a college degree there is a consensus that having a degree is the equivalent to having a high school diploma three decades ago – it’s a basic requirement to break into the middle class.

According to the White House Report on Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students, in 1970, roughly 75% of the middle class had a high school diploma or less. By 2007, this share had declined to just 39%. Without a college degree, children born in the bottom fifth of the income distribution have a 5% chance of making it to the top fifth, and a 55% of chance of making out of the bottom fifth. With a college degree, the chances of making it to the top increase to 19%, and chances of making it out of the bottom increase to 84%.

A degree has become more necessary than ever. The question we should be asking is not whether college is worth it. The question is whether or not college is really preparing graduates for the work environment.

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