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The Decline of a College Education Value

Updated on January 10, 2014

I recall my dad telling me in sermon fashion, you must go to college, get your BA degree, it will be your ticket on the train, a foot in the door, a step up from those with only a high school diploma. So, like millions of others, I did. That was years ago, but as the years went by, the ticket on the train has tarnished, has become more expensive and the payoff diminished.

It use to be a BA or BS degree was sufficient, but as parents repeated the "college mantra" their kids flooded into colleges. Soon, it was no longer that important to many employers a person had a college degree because nearly all applicants had them in something. Some jobs, no many jobs, did not need a person with a degree. It seems by 2000, the mantra morphed to, get your BA degree in something and then your MA, in order to get that "ticket on the train" to a better life, to become more special.

Are those with a MA really more intelligent, more valuable, than a person with a BA\BS? Is this just REAL BS? Well, to some employers, they think so when it comes to entry management positions, which is stupid.

A new study shows that the value in economic terms of a college degree are declining when compared to the costs to achieve it. Part of the reason is that having a degree is a norm that employers look for and nearly all of us has one. It tends to cheapen its value when you know the barista serving you coffee has a BS or BA.

Since 2006, the gap between what the median college grad earned compared to a median person with a HS diploma was only $1400 on a full-time job. The differential between a college degree and a high school grad in earnings $15,000\year. Granted, it is much more but when compared to college costs for the degree, anywhere from $50,000-$120,000 excluding living expenses, the poor job economy where many degreed people are working for $12-15 hr., in unskilled jobs (even 15% of taxi drivers have college degrees).

In 1970, 11% of all adults had a college education, in 2013, 35% now have them. Many graduates are really not more intelligent than those with high school diploma for many, many jobs. Skills usually are more important in many jobs than a college education because employers can avoid training, which is a waste of time in their eyes. In fact, for many grads, it is astonishing to find out that a person with only a HS education but as recent skills for the low level job is either training them or was the one hired. If they follow up with the manager, many times they will find out that the manager wanted skills to avoid training and a college education had no priority because most of the applicants had degrees, so, so what?

I guess the moral of the story is a college degree is still a "ticket on the train" depending on the jobs applying for. But, unless the job is directly within the field of the degree, it could be a hinderance for jobs not needing it. In this case, skills will always reign, but that does not mean you may count on crossover skills to get the job. These skills are ones related to the ones an employer really wants. Crossover skills require some training and employers hate to train today. There is little tolerance for it now. Employers would prefer to find someone who has past skills directly related to the job opening to avoid training.

Spending $100,000 for a college education may not pay-off , but it could, it is all a real gamble nowadays.


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    • perrya profile image

      perrya 4 years ago

      Yep, what you say it spot on.

    • swordsbane profile image

      William Grant 4 years ago from Wisconsin

      I have seen literally hundreds of people, those who have degrees, those who have PHDs and those without any education, and with the exception of many science fields and engineering jobs that require a firm grounding in advanced education (not necessarily a degree) employees that can think on their feet, that handle their co-workers without butting heads, that have a good attitude are FAR more valuable. You can teach a monkey to do a job. As an employer, you should be looking for the things they don't teach, like pride in your work, good attitude and a willingness to get the job done. As you can imagine, there are no degrees for those things.

      If college is meant to prepare you for a career, it does a piss-poor job of it. You are taught how to do things. You're taught (hopefully, but it is never required) to do a good job. You are not taught to get along with people. You are not taught leadership. You are not taught self-discipline. If you're lucky enough to stumble onto those yourself, then you find they help you get your degree, but they are not required by the school and too many students are blissfully ignorant of them as they pass their courses and get the piece of paper that says they passed those courses. Yes, the piece of paper says you have knowledge that others lack, but as you say... those are a dime a dozen. The REALLY valuable employees, the one's that don't carry around anything that tells you they are valuable.... they're the one's you want. Anything else that's wrong with them can be fixed.