Why I Still Believe in the College Degree

by on March 7th, 2015
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COMMENTARY | Recently, the New York Times Magazine mused that the college degree doesn’t have the same impact that it did in the past. This is hardly a shock, as simple economics will tell you that everything has a saturation point. Society has been telling kids for the last few decades that everyone can go to college. Enough kids believed society that we now have many more college graduates that are looking for well-paying jobs in high-end industries. Of course, the cost of a college education has made more and more individuals wonder about the economic worth of it, and calls for fiscal reform are widespread. The college degree may be more common, but in many ways I still believe in it.

More than money

The challenge with measuring the effectiveness of a college degree is that the perspective is increasingly economic. No longer is the college degree seen as a methodology for developing the cognitive ability of the learner. Rather, college degrees are viewed as job-training programs, and students want maximum bang for their buck. If students and parents are going to commit tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars to education, they will want some assurance that they are getting value for their investment.

An educated citizenry

At the University of California – Los Angeles, researchers have conducted a freshman survey for decades on student attitudes toward higher education. Over time, the desire to make money has overtaken, and essentially switched places with, “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” as a motivation for going to college. Again, this is hardly surprising in a consumer-oriented society. However, it is a reminder that college has at times been about more than making money. Educators have historically been tasked with not only training students for industry, but also preparing them to be citizens who can think, reason and solve the societal problems of the future.

A balanced thirst for knowledge

Granted, a “meaningful philosophy of life” is hard to deposit in the bank so that the rent can be paid. American society may never move away from a belief that colleges should be primarily focused on turning out workers who are equipped to attain maximum earning potential. However, there is value in recognizing that human development is more than economic. College is theoretically about developing critical thinking skills, and maximizing human potential. Some of that potential will always be geared towards making money, but critics should also remember that society has some issues that go beyond getting entry-level jobs. That is why I still believe in the college degree, as it has the power to aid many different aspects of societal development that go well beyond consumer earning.

Todd Pheifer teaches at the college level. Prior to entering the classroom he spent many years in higher education administration. On occasion he also enjoys the pure entertainment of substitute teaching at the high school and middle school levels.

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