The Value of an Education, Part Deux

I’m pleased as punch by the awesome discussion spurred by my last blog post!  I love tossing ideas out into the universe and then seeing what floats back.  After much discussion by a variety of people, I think a consensus has been reached and I thought I’d share it.

So far, whether or not a college education is valuable appears to be largely determined by how much debt you incur during the course of your studies.  One rule of thumb I found particularly helpful was the following:

If your annual income your first year out of school is not greater than or at the very least equal to the total amount of your student loans, your degree probably isn’t worth it.

So, if Aidan wants to go to university to study Russian literature, I’ll probably discourage the notion.  He can read all the Tolstoy and Dostoevsky he wants in his spare time without garnering thousands of dollars in debt for the privilege.

I heard from a lot of people who didn’t take on any debt while in college, and they all said they enjoyed college and found the experience very valuable.  Truthfully?  If I hadn’t had to work so much while in school and hadn’t graduated in so much debt, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more too.

The people I talked to who graduated in debt, however, were a lot less glowing in their reviews of the experience.  One person cracked me up with her suggestion that we stand on the side of a freeway offramp with a sign that read, “I graduated with a liberal arts degree.  Any bit helps!”

As for the idea that a college degree is the new high school degree, I’m starting to wonder if that’s an idea propagated by college admissions departments.  I’ve just met and talked to so many people who are successful and never finished college, the argument doesn’t seem to hold water.

It stands to reason that if you interview well, network your tail off, and do your job well, you stand as much of a chance of getting hired as anyone who graduated college.  How else can you explain a college drop-out who makes $80,000 a year doing Web design existing in the same city as the college graduate earning $35,000 a year doing data entry?

The gist of the conclusion I’ve drawn from this discussion is that if someone else is footing the bill for your college education, study whatever you want and enjoy yourself.  If you’re signing your life away in exchange for college credits, though, you’d better make sure you’re majoring in something that’ll pay well.  Or, just get really used to the idea of using half your monthly income every month to pay for your student loans.

5 thoughts on “The Value of an Education, Part Deux

  1. Pingback: The Value of an Education | Parsing Nonsense

  2. I’m curious about the people you’ve talked to without college degrees who have been successful – are they your age or closer to retirement? Because I think there has been a shift between generations in how far you can get with only a HS diploma. Of course, I may have drunk the kool-aid without realizing it.

    That said, I still stand by my earlier statement that for some employers, you might not even get to the interview stage without that college degree. I also think your comparison of Web designers & data-entry is off as the latter position wouldn’t require a college degree nor would it pay that well. I could support the same argument with the substitution of Administrative Assistant. And agree that it doesn’t make sense at all, but also recognize that Web design is a completely different animal than your standard 8-5 business.

    The simple truth is that not everyone who graduates college is going to be able to pass a cost-benefit analysis on paper. And not everyone who drops out or doesn’t go to college is going to be successful. I think the best you can do for Aidan is prepare him to make that decision for himself and then let him live with it. Whether you agree or not.

  3. -Blanche, Definitely closer to my age than retirement. You have to remember, though, I live in a software programming capital, where a college degree is not indicative of a person’s ability to find gainful employment.

    I agree that there are definitely some jobs where you won’t get an interview without a degree. It truly does depend on the work and the recruiter though. I know for a fact that I could have gotten my current job or my previous blogging job without having had a degree. And, I got a job as an administrative assistant without a degree when I was still in college.

    I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I wish I had taken a more financially savvy look at exactly what decision I was really making when I signed on all those student loans. If I could have analyzed the situation knowing what I know now, I’m not so sure I would have made the same decision.

    As for Aidan and future children, I don’t think Wes and I are planning to pay for the their college educations (because, let’s face it, we’ll probably have to take out mortgages to afford their college educations if tuitions continue to increase like there have been). That said, we’ll encourage them to make wise financial decisions but, since they’ll be the ones to sign for their own student loans, it’ll ultimately be up to them.

  4. The more I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that for both DH and I there was no question – college was the next step out of HS, it was family expectation and we’ll have the same expectation for our little one(s), and we’ll probably pay for at least a bachelor’s degree as our parents did for us. I suppose that makes my “of course you need a college degree” position a bit of a reflex (in addition to what I’ve seen about not being considered without one).

    I can totally see what you are saying with your situation about knowing then what you know now…unfortunately it’s only hindsight that’s reliably 20/20.

    But we’re in agreement that making sure the next generation gets the benefit of our hard-earned wisdom – and it’s up to them to make use of it, or not.

  5. -Blanche, I totally get the college goal as a reflex thing, it was for me too! I never even thought about it, I just signed my name on the dotted line and called it good. Also, who knows what would have happened had I not gone to college? Maybe I still would have become a blogger, maybe I would have ended up as a barista for the rest of my life!

    As for the hard-earned wisdom, that’s all we can really do as parents, isn’t it? Our kids will make their own calls, and we’ll be there to cheer or help them back up as is necessary.

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