Is a college degree still valuable?

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Picture of Anna Stevenson. Photo by Francesca Norman

If you’ve ever questioned what you’re doing with your life, you’re not alone. In the past month that I’ve spent at UD, I’ve constantly found myself wondering, “Why am I attending college?”

Every day it seems like there’s something new to convince me that college isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: student loan debt, the hours spent studying and attending classes, minimal free time, the lack of privacy, etc. 

However, the argument I’ve been having with myself isn’t over how the fire alarms got set off again today, or who clogged the toilet in the fourth stall, but whether a college degree is still worth something. 

We’ve all heard that an education is the key to landing a successful career, and it’s generally true. According to a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2020, the employment rate for those who had completed high school was only 74%, while the employment rate for young adults who have graduated with a bachelor’s degree or higher is roughly 87%. 

While this means young adults with bachelor’s degrees are more likely to be hired than their counterparts, it has also led to a phenomena coined as “degree inflation.”

Much like the problem of currency inflation, degree inflation is also on the rise. While some of our parents might have had no problem landing a job with a high school diploma, our generation is finding college diplomas to be a near universal mandate when entering the job market. 

Out of all my friends in high school, only one didn’t enter college directly after finishing high school. Society has begun to place the unrealistic expectation on young adults that four-year college degrees are absolutely essential for any job in the workplace. 

Even careers that previously didn’t require degrees — such as retail salespeople, cashiers and janitors — are requiring applicants to have some college education. Why do we think that everyone both needs and wants higher education, even for jobs where a lower level of education would suffice?

While it’s understandable that certain careers would require extensive education — it would be a little scary to be operated on by someone with no medical experience — the increased expectation for bachelor’s degrees, especially among lower-level job applicants, is unrealistic. 

Not only does it place an economic burden on those unable to attend college due to financial reasons, it also forces job seekers to attend colleges not necessarily geared toward their specific job interests. As someone who is currently attending college, it’s expensive. From meal plans to printing papers to textbooks to room and board, it all adds up. 

Those from lower-income backgrounds that choose to enter the workforce directly after high school are likely to face higher unemployment rates than their counterparts that did attend college. The increased need for bachelor’s degrees does not benefit those from lower-income backgrounds, and thus allows for discrimination among them in the job market.

For young adults interested in vocational careers, a trade school seems like the better option, for it allows them to receive specialized training and to enter the workforce quickly. However, the preference among employers for a bachelor’s degree unreasonably increases our disdain for trade school graduates. 

While classes such as theology and Lit Trad can be interesting, it’s doubtful that someone looking to be a technician or mechanic will find them especially relevant to their job.

So, is my college degree actually worth anything? In some cases, yes, college degrees are necessary — I doubt I’d find a cardiologist who was self-taught — but employers across the nation are requiring even low-level job seekers to have a bachelor’s degree.

IIt’s time for society to realize that four-year degrees aren’t an option for everyone and, in some cases, are becoming more of a restriction than an opportunity.

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