Does One Really Need a College Degree?

Aerial view above Harvard's central campus
Aerial view above Harvard's central campus | Source

Is too much emphasis placed on obtaining a college degree in the United States of 2012?

Absolutely not!

Let’s first turn back the clock to see why. My father graduated with just a high school degree in 1935. As a hard-working and relatively intelligent, common-sensical white man entering the work force, he was always able to find and keep a decent job. Throughout his working life, he actually undertook four distinctly separate occupations or trades. The most sophisticated of those trades made use of relatively specialized electrical and welding equipment, which he was able to learn how to handle, and, in time, become quite adept with.

Famed Harvard Yard
Famed Harvard Yard | Source

Jump forward now almost 8 decades to 2012. In our drastically accelerated (and accelerating) world of change, a young man or woman exiting high school today is likely to make a half dozen or more career changes throughout the remainder of his or her working life. In addition, many jobs and careers make use of far more pervasive technology of greater complexity than existed in America in the 1930s through 1960s. Computers are ubiquitous. The skills required to work even the cash register (or transaction terminal, to be more exact) at a fast food restaurant can be a bit intimidating, let alone those required to work at a financial institution or on a survey crew.

Holden Chapel, Harvard University
Holden Chapel, Harvard University | Source

Don’t get me wrong: the world will always need farmers and truck drivers and maids and busboys. But over time there may tend to be fewer of them, and those that remain in or enter those fields will have to have greater skills than their forebears.

And let’s not lose sight of urbanization, globalization and competitive free-market forces. As the world’s population shifts ever more into heavily urbanized areas, every resident begins to acquire the minimal skills necessary to survive in a city, whether those skill include driving a car, understanding a mortgage, or deciphering a subway map. Once city newcomers see the limited pathways to riches and security, they begin to invest in the education necessary to compete with their neighbors. Increasingly, citizens of one country (i.e. China or Singapore or Brazil) start cannibalizing the better-paying and more rewarding jobs of another country (i.e. the U.S., Great Britain, France). Competitive free-market forces guarantee that the high school graduate from Ottumwa, Iowa may eventually be challenging a college graduate from Mumbai, India for the same tech job.

Memorial Hall, Harvard University
Memorial Hall, Harvard University | Source

The fact that high school graduates of the United States often lag far behind their counterparts from accelerating world societies elsewhere about the globe — particularly in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math — suggest that college degrees are worth aspiring to. Furthermore, there is nothing elitist or snobbish about wishing the greatest life success and self-actualization on all our children.

Finally, a college degree may be any number of things. It may be a Ph.D. from a prestigious Biomedical Engineering program. Or it may be a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education from a rural four-year university. Or it may be an Associate’s Degree in Carpentry from a two-year city college.

But no matter what the college degree, or the meaningful education that precedes it, it will likely prove ever more essential to having the fulfilling and comfortable life of the future.

Widener Library, Harvard Yard
Widener Library, Harvard Yard | Source

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Comments 6 comments

krosch profile image

krosch 4 years ago

I don't agree with your opinion on Americans lagging behind the rest of the world in advanced training in things like sciences. What exactly do you base that opinion on?

Also I think college degrees are very useful and are wonderful for the people who want to get them. But this push that everyone even though that want an entry level job sweeping at a corporate office should have a college degree is costing this nation a lot of resources and leaving us with lots of unemployed English and Art majors while despite massively high unemployment, we still don't have enough long haul truck drivers.

A college degree isn't the answer for everyone perhaps and some planning should be done in college as to what they might want to do with their life and how their degree may or may not fit into that goal.

I think maybe people may wish they had taken an 8 week truck driving course for a few thousand dollars for a steady paycheck right now rather than getting an arts education degree and working in a warehouse not being able to find a teaching job like a good friend of mine has been doing for the last 5 years.

Now if he had gotten a chemistry degree or another more marketable degree like he ponders now in hindsight perhaps things could be very different.

As a final thought those degrees can be great and I don't want to tell people not to do it. Simply think about your future and how the degree may or may not work into what you want to do.

Skarlet profile image

Skarlet 4 years ago from California

You are great. I love your hubs.

rickzimmerman profile image

rickzimmerman 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio Author

krosch: You are right in saying that one should think about their future and see how a degree — any kind or level of degree — might help.

rickzimmerman profile image

rickzimmerman 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio Author

Skarlet: thanks much! It's great to have such an appreciative fan. Here's hoping I never let you down.

Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 4 years ago from Upstate New York

I'm thinking it's a trend that can't be reversed due to the complications of an increasingly technical world we live in. The trend is, the better the education, the better the job. That doesn't mean that college is for everyone. For one thing, it's enormously expensive; for another, there are only a few fields to choose from that have enhanced employment opportunities right upon graduation.

rickzimmerman profile image

rickzimmerman 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio Author

I agree with all you've added. We all need to work towards college education being more affordable to all, and having it relevant enough to our changing society that it affords transition into fruitful careers.

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