Debt and Degree

What's the true worth of a college education?

Education has always been a hot topic of conversation in Texas, and it’s gonna get even hotter in this year’s session of the Texas legislature. In 2011, that bunch chopped more than a billion dollars from higher education, which in turn, dashed the dream of college for many Texas students. They felt that state funds needed to be directed to things that were more important. That action sorta flew in the face of what our parents always told us was most important.  

Remember what they always said? “Get a good education.” “Stay in school.” Those words constantly rang through my head, particularly during my eighth year of college and beyond. But now, with all the budget constraints, maybe we need to ask ourselves a tough question? Does higher education really make a difference? Well, it certainly did for me.
And with a little red wine and an advanced degree, you too could be the most obnoxious person in the room.

I normally don’t pay much attention to studies. They’re generally biased in favor of whoever funded them. Higher education could be entirely funded by the taxpayer money spent on the more ridiculous ones. For instance, more than a million dollars was spent to determine if removing the ovaries of prepubescent rabbits impacts the likelihood of sudden cardiac death. Approximately $1.5 million was given to researchers who determined that chimpanzees can identify other chimpanzees individually from seeing photographs of their rear ends.
My favorite was the almost $2 million spent to discover that some people don’t need deodorant. That’s right, 2 percent of the American population have a gene that makes them odorless. And by the way, to everybody I’ve ever ridden on a bus with, you ain’t one of ‘em.

But there was one study I saw that was pretty interesting. It took a very serious look at getting a college education in today’s world.
College tuition has increased almost 30 percent in the last five years. Students are now borrowing twice the amount of money they did just a decade ago. This is resulting in approximately two-thirds of college students graduating with student loan debt. It’s an amount so exorbitant, that almost 20 percent default on their loans within three years.
But that’s only part of the bad news. More than one-third of college graduates are having to take jobs that don’t require a college degree.
I read somewhere else that well over one hundred thousand janitors have a college degree. There are even more that hear a higher calling.
Unfortunately, if things continue the way they are, a college degree just won’t be cost effective. Consider this. In the early 1950s, the average yearly tuition for an Ivy League college was $500. Today, it’s more than $50,000.

So do I think a college education is worth it? You bet I do. But it’s not for everybody. Some people can’t or don’t want to get a college degree. And that’s just fine. The lack of a diploma certainly didn’t slow down Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. But for the education system to work for everybody, I think a couple of things need to change.

I spoke to a friend of mine who’s taught school in the ISD for more than30 years. She told me that high schools are basically geared to prepare students for college. They also need to be better geared to prepare some of the kids for the job market. Everybody can be trained to perform some sort of skill. For instance, computer specialists will tell you that a certification in a particular technology can be far more valuable than a computer science degree.

We also might need to take a different approach to college. For years, it’s been beaten into our heads to finish our education as quickly as possible. But most 18-year-olds don’t have a clue as to what they want to do when they begin college. A better idea might be to encourage them instead to get a job or enter the military. It would not only raise some money to further their education, but also give them some time to figure out what career they’d really like to pursue. I think any professor will tell you that older students perform better because they’re motivated and have a goal. I wish I’d had a goal in college. I might have even attended class.

But regardless of which path we take, it’s great to know that all of us still have the opportunity to make a fortune at a dream job. Like conducting studies.