One thing I’ve been hearing is the sentiment that a college education isn’t worth it. It’s often expressed by pundits who notice the state of the job market, think that an education isn’t going as far as it used to, and they assume that it isn’t worthwhile to pursue a college education. I disagree with that perception, which I suspect has done a lot of damage in recent times. A person can hear it, assume that there’s nothing in it for them to take their education any further, and they end up underemployed in spite of their intelligence.
There are numerous cases in which college graduates are working difficult, low-skill, low-pay jobs. The media notices cases like this, reports them as evidence of how the job market is doing, and pundits notice these stories in turn and they blog about what they see as one of the greatest problems with society.
Yeah, there are plenty of Starbucks employees out there with college degrees, but there’s an aspect to this matter that I think goes largely unnoticed: It matters what you go to college for, not just that you went to college.
Perhaps many book store employees and Walmart cart pushers have college degrees, but how many people are asking them what they majored in?
It’s no secret at this point that it’s much harder to find a job with a degree in English or Philosophy than with a degree in Automotive or Engineering. Automotive and Engineering degrees are in demand because they involve a person learning skills that are relevant to those hiring.
When a person graduates from college, their degree indicates that they’ve sufficiently been prepared to perform a job as a professional. In many cases, college courses are intensive, fast-paced, and intellectually-involved to the point that when a person obtains a degree, it indicates that the person takes what they went to school for seriously. There’s very little risk in hiring such a person.
However, a college degree is more useful if it indicates skills that are in demand. There are many automotive repair shops that want to hire a person with a degree in automotive technology. What is a person prepared for when they major in English or Philosophy? Not much, really. Usually, the best they can hope for is to end up teaching English or Philosophy at a university.
Should colleges be blamed for offering degrees that aren’t very useful? Not really. The colleges that offer degrees that don’t reflect in-demand skills are providing a service that customers (students) are willing to pay for. The more serious problem is that students are investing piles of money into educational choices that aren’t likely to pay out very well.
There are many reasons why they do this. Perhaps they’re going for a college degree just to say that they have one. Perhaps their parents are pressuring them to attend college, and they, out of laziness, go for something that requires little effort. Perhaps they’re simply unaware of just how few opportunities await someone with an English or Philosophy degree. Or perhaps they are aware of how difficult the job market is for one with the degrees they’re pursuing, and they’re determined to teach these subjects for a living.
One problem, I think, is that people are largely intimidated by math. People often see math as being something difficult for ordinary people to figure out, and they leave it for the people they see as smart to worry about. One of the most frequently-heard complaints about math is that it’s hard to see how the more complex-looking math would be applied in life.
But here’s the thing: if someone doesn’t use the math they learned in high school in their job, their job probably doesn’t pay very well. One thing that automotive specialists, doctors, and engineers have in common is that each of them uses some relatively advanced math nearly any day that they work. Most people would probably prefer that people in such positions be well-practiced in math. People in these trades typically get paid very well, and this is because there aren’t very many people out there that have learned the skills that they have. It’s often the math that intimidates people.
College educations can still be very much worth it, but results can vary greatly depending on what a person goes to college for. The challenging things to learn often pay off the best. Don’t allow certain people to discourage you from bettering yourself. Even a person who goes to school for English or Philosophy can succeed. It helps to be realistic when it comes to your goals.