College is optional, not mandatory

College graduation is part of the American Dream, but not for everyone (ref 1)!  Marketing, peer pressure, and well-meaning adults may push young students into the wrong college for the wrong reason (ref 2). So let’s consider the pros and cons of attending college under the topics of cost, readiness, careers, health, and miscellaneous factors.

COST 

College is expensive; its rising costs surpass the inflation rate of consumer prices and the growth of household earnings (ref 1, 3).

  • PROS:  
    • Financially secure families can pay college expenses.
    • Student aid might pay college expenses for qualified students who need assistance (ref 4).
    • The return-on-investment (ROI) is a ratio of net return for every dollar paid for college.  A positive value means that the investment is profitable (ref 1, 5).  Example: for American community college students in year 2012, the ROI of 3.8 inferred that students could receive $3.80 for every $1.00 paid for college (ref 5).
  • CONS:  
    • Unfortunately, college may be too expensive for low-income families (ref 1)
    • It’s a waste of money for college students to drop out after one year (ref 1-3)
    • The total cost of college includes any missed income from not having a job (“opportunity cost”).  Delaying employment during college impedes retirement savings plans, buying a house, and other big-cost projects after graduation (ref 1, 5).
    • The payback period is the time needed to recoup college costs.  For American community college students in year 2012, the average payback period was 7.8 years (ref 5). 
    • Can’t afford it?  Beware that a ‘crippling’ debt of large student-loan balances could cause financial distress for many college graduates.  Unpaid balances prevent financial independence and student loans cannot be erased by bankruptcy (ref 1-3)

READINESS

Some high school students aren’t ready to attend college and might benefit from gaining more experience before applying to college (ref 2, 4).

  • PROS: Preparation for college (“college prep”) is essential for success.  Families and school counselors can facilitate the process (ref 4). 
  • CONS: Students with low motivation, poor study habits, and low test scores are less likely to succeed in college. 

CHOICES

College is not the only pathway to lifetime success.

  • PROS: 
    • A bachelor’s degree is usually required for enrollment in graduate- or professional school.  
    • There are many opportunities for personal and career development offered by trade schools, 2-year colleges, and 4-year colleges (ref 1, 4) 
  • CONS:  
    • Waste of time?  Don’t apply to college if you have something better to do such as pursuing self education and building a business (ref 2, 3).

CAREERS

Most colleges support career development with a wide selection of courses and career internships, but young people can still develop a career without going to college (ref 1, 3, 4). 

  • PROS:  
    • Many jobs require college degrees.  A lower percentage of American jobs require high school diplomas today than in the 1970s.  Most of America’s job growth after year 2010 went to holders of a college degree, and this trend will likely continue (ref 1, 6). 
    • College degrees represent the potential for earning a higher salary.  Between years 1965 and 2013, young adults ages 25-32 who worked full time earned higher annual incomes with at least a bachelor’s degree than young adults with lesser amounts of education (ref 1, 4, 5-7). 
    • College graduates enjoy greater job security compared to workers without an associate’s degree or higher.  Graduates have lower unemployment rates (ref 1, 4) and higher employment rates (ref 7, 8)
    • There’s a shortage of skilled workers for trades taught in trade schools and community colleges (ref 1).
    • Millennial graduates (ages 25-32) with bachelor’s degrees are more satisfied with their choice of careers than other employed Millennials (ref 6).  
  • CONS:  
    • A college degree is not necessary for a successful career.  Some of America’s fastest growing jobs don’t require college degrees (ref 1)
    • Don’t apply to college if you seek the fast-track to earnings (e.g., military enlistment with on-the-job training; unskilled labor; ref 1).  
    • A large supply of college graduates dilutes the employment value of a bachelor’s degree (ref 8).  About 10% of recent-graduates are unemployed and about 40% have part-time jobs.  College graduates encounter greater competition to be hired and may have to settle for jobs that don’t require a college education (ref 1).
    • Many college graduates are unprepared for jobs that require reasoning skills  (ref 1, 3). 
    • A college degree does not guarantee workplace benefits (ref 1)

HEALTH

The college experience can favorably or unfavorably affect a student’s health.

  • PROS:  
    • College graduates tend to live healthier, longer lives (ref 1, 5) 
    • College graduates raise healthier children (ref 1) 
  • CONS:  
    • Overwhelming academic and social stress can cause health problems (ref 1, 9)

MISCELLANEOUS FACTORS

There are many opinions about the benefits of attending college.

  • PROS: 
    • Better living conditions: the poverty rate of Mellennials, Gen Xers, and Boomers was lower among college graduates with bachelor’s degrees compared to graduates with associate’s or high school degrees (ref 1, 4, 6). 
    • College graduates are more likely to have employer sponsored health insurance and retirement plans compared to workers who didn’t attend college (ref 1).
    • A liberal arts education promotes personal and professional growth (ref 1, 10)
    • Social mobility:  Young adults with a bachelor’s degree are more likely to achieve higher levels of income and less likely to rely on public assistance programs compared to high school graduates (ref 1, 7). 
    • Data suggest that college alumni donate more time, effort, and money to charity than people without a college education (ref 1, 7). 
    • Social savings:  Fewer graduates with bachelor’s degrees are incarcerated in prisons compared to high school dropouts (ref 1, 5).  
    • College students are exposed to diversified social and professional networks (ref 1, 4, 10).  
    • College students develop skills in collaboration, time management, and project discipline (ref 10).
    • Children of college graduates tend to enroll and finish college compared to children of families without college degrees (ref 1, 4). 
    •  
  • CONS:  
    • A college degree is no guarantee of adequate learning (ref 1).  
    • College teachers may abuse their authority by imposing personal values and beliefs on students (ref 1).
    • College classroom instruction tends to be irrelevant to everyday life, outdated and obsolete (ref 3).  While a majority of college graduates believe that college studies are useful in their job, a minority are dissatisfied (ref 6).
    • In reconsidering their undergraduate college experience, many students wished they gained more work experience, studied harder, sought work sooner, or chose different studies (ref 6).  

REFERENCES

1.  Is a College Education Worth It?  ProCon org. https://college-education.procon.org 

2.  3 Reasons Not to Go to College. Tim Patterson, 10/26/2017, Sterling College. https://sterlingcollege.edu/blog/3-reasons-not-go-college/ 

3.  7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Go to College and 4 Things to Do Instead. Michael Price, 9/6/2017, HuffPost.  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/michaelprice/7-reasons-why-you-shouldn_1_b_5501111.html

4.  8 Reasons Why College is Important.  6/24/2014, CollegeAtlas org.  https://www.collegeatlas.org/why-go-to-college.html

5.  Where Value Meets Values: The Economic Impact of Community Colleges.  Analysis of the Economic Impact and Return on Investment of Education. February 2014.  Economic Modeling Specialistis Intl.  https://www.empowererie.org/uploads/resources/796450_usa_agg_mainreport_final_021114.pdf 

6.  The rising cost of not going to college.  Pew Research Center, Social and Demographic trends. 2/11/14.  http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/02/11/the-rising-cost-of-not-going-to-college/ 

7. Return on Investment in College Education. Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. 2017.  https://www.agb.org/sites/default/files/report_2017_guardians_roi.pdf 

8.  College Education. Background of the Issue, 8/11/2016, ProCon org.  https://college-education.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=006578 

9.  Emotional Health & Your College Student. A Guide for Parents.  The Jed Foundation  http://www.transitionyear.org/_downloads/parent_pdf_guide.pdf 

10.  Why go to college?  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/darwins-subterranean-world/201801/why-go-college 

Copyright © 2018 Douglas R. Knight 

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