In my educational circles the past few months I have been pondering the realities of the crisis that has become higher education. More and more students are vying for less spots per capita (with more students wanting to go to school there are less spots available per student). The value of a college education is dropping rapidly as there are more individuals in our society with BA degrees. It has been said by many that today a BA is worth what a HS diploma was worth 20-30 years ago.
We are no longer in the industrial age, yet our schools were designed to educate for the industrial age. We are now in the technological age, our lives imprisoned to the ever-changing world around us. The speed at which change occurs is faster than we ever believed was possible. Just ten years ago there was no Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest. There were no iPhones or iPads or Wiis. No one had an iPod. Ten years ago MP3 players were just making their debut and there were still people who resisted owning cellphones. Why do I bring all this up? When we look at our colleges and universities, I cannot help but wonder – how are we truly capable of training our young people to inherit our ever-changing world. Students who begin their IT degrees will learn in their Freshman year all about cutting edge technology that will be obsolete before they graduate.
And what happens after our young people become proud graduates with BA degrees? The average debt of a student graduating with a BA degree is now over $25,000. The cost of degree has risen as the value of the degree has plummeted. I am curious. How is a UCLA graduate who delivers pizza and has $25,000 in debt better off than a 20-year-old pizza delivery guy with no degree and no debt? How is it that the college educated individual has a better life? From what I can tell, they have more financial burdens and no more ability to support themselves than the person with a high school diploma. It seems that BA degrees are now holding one strong purpose – they are the stepping stone to a master’s degree. Thankfully, many people can still walk away from masters degree programs trained to start lucrative careers (as long as the job market allows for it).
I received my BA in 1995, my MA in 1998 and my post-graduate certificate in 2002. I needed to take out student loans to pay for each of my degree programs. I am still at least 12 years away from paying off my student loan debt (maybe more, I do not even bother to check – I just know that the monthly payments have a LONG way to go). I do not personally regret taking out my student loans, as my education is what allowed me to hold the professional position I have today. Without the loans there would be no education and I would not have my current profession. That said, I may question the value of my education if I had a BA degree, $25,000 in debt and no profession that allowed me to immediately secure employment to begin to pay off the debt I incurred.
Is it worth it? Will it be worth it when my girls are college age? Maybe they would be better off joining AmeriCorps, the Army, or Traveling the world. All viable options that will probably provide more educational stimulation than the overcrowded university and college campuses of today. I also wonder if it is wise for a person who just turned 18, a child, to head right into a collegiate education that costs so much. Most 18 year olds do not yet have strong life and career ambitions. Is that the time to be heading to university? Perhaps it makes more sense for them to take a few years off to discover what they really want and then head to university more focused and in a better space to get more out of their ridiculously overpriced higher education.
So, what is the moral of my rant? It is okay to ask whether the value of your college education is worth the debt you will incur to receive it.
If you are graduating from high school and needing to make decisions about what course to take, I encourage you to take your time and make healthy choices for you.