Pamela M. Christian, Ph.D., of Azusa Pacific University, says yes, college is worth it.
In your article “Is College Worth It?” you mention the three most obvious advantages that a college degree can provide. Can you explain?
Earning the money necessary to sustain a modest lifestyle requires the ability to compete for at least entry-level employment opportunities. Increasingly these opportunities require education beyond high school. As I mentioned in the article: The Public Policy Institute of California predicts “that 41 percent of jobs in 2025 will require a college degree.” Further: “A college graduate will earn an average of $412 more per week or $21,424 per year.”
A college degree is beneficial in securing employment and is frequently a requirement for many careers. Employment opportunities that allow for advancement and longevity generally demand higher levels of education and training. These include opportunities in non-profit industries. Careers in virtually every field rely on colleges and universities to provide the fundamental components of professional education and training necessary to function within the workplace.
While there are varying definitions of success, the employment options available for college graduates multiply the possibilities for acquiring positions with salaries and benefits. In addition to higher annual incomes, benefit packages allow access to more healthcare options, savings for retirement, paid sick time and vacations, and other provisions that enhance job satisfaction and the quality of life for eligible employees.
Ok, what about the less obvious advantages you also mention in the article?
Earning a degree is an indicator of both intelligence and resilience. It signifies that an individual is capable of addressing short- and long-term goals in an environment where there is continual assessment and accountability with minimal supervision. These skills transcend career fields and appeal to employers in virtually every industry.
You brought up two examples of college graduates (yourself included) who found jobs in fields unrelated to their fields of study. How did the degree help?
There are four learning outcomes that should be evident in all college graduates. The ability to communicate effectively in both written and verbal contexts; the ability to identify and solve problems; the ability to interact appropriately with other people; and the ability to analyze, organize, synthesize, and present information in a meaningful way. In my own case, after completing my bachelor of arts in History, I utilized this learning to successfully compete for a position that called for a computer science degree. While I wasn’t familiar with the vernacular of the computer science discipline, I knew how to study and learn what was necessary to pass the examination required for consideration. I dressed professionally for the interview and demonstrated my ability to comfortably interact in unfamiliar environments. Each of these skills were acquired or enhanced during my journey to earn my degree. Some skills were explicitly addressed within my college curriculum, like writing mechanics, and public speaking, while others were inherently a part of the process. Discerning appropriate behaviors within unfamiliar environments is a skill I developed by interacting with the various people and groups I encountered in college.
Although a college degree provides flexibility, I am not asserting that a degree in any discipline equips graduates for any job, career, or vocation. Specialized fields require additional expertise that must be acquired as well. For instance, a graduate with a degree in English should not expect to secure a position as a nurse without the degrees and certifications required.
You mentioned the inadvisability of a student investing time and money into “academic programs unrelated to their interests.” So, what would be the best place to start for someone who isn’t sure what field of study he’d like to pursue all the way through to a degree?
The general education course requirements for two and four year degrees provide students with exposure to multiple disciplines. Students who are uncertain about which major to select often clarify their interests while engaged in these courses. It is also prudent to take advantage of academic advising and career counseling while enrolled in general education courses.
Can you be more specific about the importance of choosing an “appropriately accredited” school?
Colleges and universities with national and regional accreditation signify that the school routinely engages in quality assurance practices that promote academic excellence. There are two types of accreditations, institutional and discipline specific. To ensure that earned degrees are recognized by employers it is best that students select schools accredited. In addition, students in specialized fields are advised to invest in programs that are recognized and accredited by the prominent licensing agencies in their field.
What else should a
person keep in mind when choosing a school and a program of study?
There are more that 6,500 degree granting institutions in the United States. Colleges and universities are not one size fits all; schools are as unique as individuals. Examining institutional fit is as important as determining a major. Considerations can include but should not be limited to the school’s mission; location; size (based on enrollments and land mass); endowment (indicating its ability to provide resources to students and faculty); activities and organizations; facilities; and food.
And do you have any additional advice for those who will have to balance work and family life while pursuing a degree?
The cost of education exceeds the expenses of tuition, books, and other materials. The investment of time involved requires the ability to delay gratification while simultaneously managing personal wellness while attending to competing priorities. It is not an easy or inexpensive task, but it is absolutely worth doing. The rewards are usually beyond what students imagine during the process; and the return on the investments of financial resources, time, and other sacrifices are immeasurably positive.