There’s been a lot of speculation as to whether or not college is worth the money, and rightfully so. People are straddled with tens of thousands in debt after they “do their time,” but have little luck paying it back if they majored in a less-than-lucrative career path.
I read an article in Newsweek recently addressing the issue of taking out loans to pay for college and whether or not it’s worth it. To sum up the article, it says, “not really.” In the words of Megan McArdle, who wrote the Newsweek piece:
But how much, exactly, does credentialism matter? For years there’s been a fierce debate among economists over how much of the value of a degree is credentials and how much the education. Heckman thinks the credentialism argument—what economists call “signaling”—is “way overstated.” His work does show that a lot depends on outside factors like cognitive ability and early childhood health. But he says flatly that “no one thinks that schooling has no effect on ability.”
That debate matters a lot, because while the value of an education can be very high, the value of a credential is strictly limited. If students are gaining real, valuable skills in school, then putting more students into college will increase the productive capacity of firms and the economy—a net gain for everyone. Credentials, meanwhile, are a zero-sum game. They don’t create value; they just reallocate it, in the same way that rising home values serve to ration slots in good public schools.
They make a good point. Today’s typical college student attends college merely to attain a piece of paper. While this piece of paper is important, they miss the whole purpose of going to college: to get an education. There’s a huge difference from getting a degree and getting an education.
I don’t intend to debate whether college is worth your money. For the kinds of people who show up 10 minutes late with glazed eyes, it’s obviously not. My point is to shed light on the intangible reasons why we go to college. Sure, the piece of paper is nice, but so is not being excommunicated from a respectable social status by your peers.
Going to college is turning into wearing a style of clothing. What you’re wearing says a lot about who you are and as much as I’d like to live in the world of self-consciousness deficiency, I don’t. People judge people. Like wearing something lacking style, not going to college gives someone a certain perception of you.
Just going to a community college made me feel that way. I felt like I had a dunce cap on my head whenever someone from UCSB found out I went to SBCC. The thought might not have even crossed the other person’s mind, but it crossed mine. It’s almost absurd to think that way considering 45 percent of students that completed a degree at a four-year school started at a community college in the 2010-2011 academic year.
We have an innate fear of being left out. Subsequently, we go to college, major in something like anthropology (My apologies to dedicated anthropology majors), finish college and say, “Shit. Now what?”
This is where Newsweek starts their article. The problem is that they oversimplify the issue. Their intention is to say, “Hey, if you’re going to fuck around, don’t go,” or “If you’re going to graduate and work in retail you’re whole life then don’t go to college because you don’t need a college degree to do that.” But I’m not Nostradamus. I can’t sit there the summer before college and say, “Well, I’m definitely going to work at the state prison anyway so screw going to college.” That’s an ignorant assessment of contemporaneous circumstances that surround potential college students.
Unfortunately, life isn’t that cut and dry. This is an issue of mass psychology, not just whether or not to invest in yourself. This universal disposition of “I need to get a college degree” has spawned this kind of uniformity that’s not going to separate yourself when it comes time to apply for a paying job. Newsweek comes out saying the same thing, but fails to accurately address how we got here. We do it just as much for social security as we do financial security.
Don’t worry. On average, college graduates still make a prodigious amount of money as opposed to someone who just graduated high school. This mentality is leading to the point where you’re going to need a degree to work at a gas station though. It’s what Rick Santorum meant when he called Barack Obama a snob for thinking everyone should go to college. I believe Santorum also wraps tinfoil around his head to block alien transmissions from entering his brain so I don’t know what to believe.
The only thing I know for sure is that the most common major amongst college students is debt. But it will never be as easy as saying, “Then don’t go.”