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Does One Really Need a College Degree?
Is too much emphasis placed on obtaining a college degree in the United States of 2012?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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