This is the time of the year when almost everyone is involved in a graduation ceremony either as a guest, a relative or friend of a graduate, or someone who is walking up the stage to get their diploma. And, at most of these gatherings, the guest speaker will stick to some tried and true topics including how a college degree will get you further in life than no degree at all.
I really hate when people say that because it’s an oversimplification of a very real, complex economic situation. A college degree, in and of itself, does not advance a person’s earning potential or professional advancement opportunities. In fact, anyone who believes that simple statement probably would like to buy some beans that I picked up the other day…
What a college degree does do is grant a person access. It is this access that is the most important part of receiving a college degree. The piece of paper that your degree is written on is good and might help you to secure a larger raise or a higher starting salary, but most importantly it gives you access to professions and organizations that you might not have otherwise been able to access. This, of course, doesn’t mean that those folks who decide to stay away from college cannot attain the same level of access. Not at all. It does mean, however, that the person with the college degree might find a more favorable way through the employment door and a more attractive compensation package, though.
The New York Times published an article about this topic yesterday and this portion of the text caught my eye:
Among the top 10 growing job categories, two require college degrees: accounting (a bachelor’s) and postsecondary teachers (a doctorate). But this growth is expected to be dwarfed by the need for registered nurses, home health aides, customer service representatives and store clerks. None of those jobs require a bachelor’s degree.
Professor Vedder likes to ask why 15 percent of mail carriers have bachelor’s degrees, according to a 1999 federal study.
“Some of them could have bought a house for what they spent on their education,” he said.
Now, with all of this being said, I still want to make the point that going to college at some point (maybe not the first year after high school) is still a great thing for people to do. In fact, the New York Times article from yesterday agrees with this passage:
There is another rejoinder to the case against college: People with college and graduate degrees generally earn more than those without them, and face lower risks of unemployment, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Even those who experience a few years of college earn more money, on average, with less risk of unemployment, than those who merely graduate from high school, said Morton Schapiro, an economist who is the president of Northwestern University.
“You get some return even if you don’t get the sheepskin,” Mr. Schapiro said.
He warned against overlooking the intangible benefits of a college experience — even an incomplete experience — for those who might not apply what they learned directly to their chosen work.
“It’s not just about the economic return,” he said. “Some college, whether you complete it or not, contributes to aesthetic appreciation, better health and better voting behavior.”
It’s a proven fact that a college degree helps people along, but my spin on the story is that it helps by granting access. Benefits don’t magically appear to those with degrees – you still have to work hard to achieve success.