Is College Really Necessary?

It’s no secret that college costs are rising to ridiculous levels. Kids are graduating with huge debt loads. Even if their parents have saved for their schooling since birth, costs are rising so fast they’re still likely to have to take on debt or work during school. In the last twenty years or so we’ve come to believe that college is a non-negotiable necessity. We’ve started thinking that college is the end-all-be-all of education and a guarantee of success. But is it really?

Obviously some fields require college. If you want to be a doctor, lawyer, scientist, engineer, teacher, or architect, for example, college is the only way to go. Other fields value skills that can be taught in college, but not exclusively. Many tech jobs are more about programming skills, for example, that can be mastered in your garage just as well as in a college classroom. The same holds true for many trades, design fields, communication fields, or even sales and marketing. College can teach these things, but they can also be learned in many other ways.

Our world is changing and in a lot of ways it’s going in reverse. In days gone by, it was your skills that mattered. If you could turn out a product, grow a crop, or repair something, you would never have trouble finding work. Then things changed and we began to value the cerebral. When you went job hunting, the hunt was less about concrete skills and more about whether you could be taught and molded to fit what a company needed. The company could teach you the skills; what they wanted to know was could you be taught and could you apply yourself to a goal. Getting a college degree became a barometer of your ability to be educated, rather than a path toward acquiring a specific skill set. The field of your degree didn’t even have to be in the field you were working in. A degree in philosophy could land you a sales job at a tech company. All the company needed to know was: Can we educate this person in our ways?

Now things are changing. Many employers value the skill set more than the demonstrated ability to be taught. They want to know: Can you make this product? Can you create this design? Can you program this application? Can you write this copy? Employers no longer have the time or the money to invest in taking an intelligent kid and teaching them the specific skills they need. Employers want people who can come in, hit the ground running, and start churning out products from the first day on the job. College degrees may carry a certain cachet, but beyond a few specific fields, they don’t teach the concrete skills needed by employers.

To that end, higher education is changing. No longer is a two year degree considered “settling.” A two year degree in web programming may be more valuable than a four year degree in liberal arts – and cost a lot less. An online degree that results in a useful skill may be more valuable than classroom learning. Higher education may not even be necessary, beyond rounding out some skill sets or just gaining a different perspective on the world. The kid who can create a video game in his garage at sixteen may be more valuable than the kid with a four year degree in “Communication.” There are places in today’s work force for the self taught and highly motivated kids. Some employers are even taking on skilled kids in directly out of high school and putting them into paid positions and giving them a mentor to flesh out the necessary skills.

College will always have a place, but before you plunk down hundreds of thousands of dollars, ask yourself whether it’s really necessary. Maybe your kid already has a marketable skill that he enjoys and is only in need of a two year degree to learn the finer points of that skill. Maybe your kid can develop a business idea into a full fledged venture without college. Maybe your kid can get hired on at a company as a highly paid intern. Maybe a combination of work experience and an online degree will get them further than four years in a classroom. And don’t pop for a private school unless you know the degree will earn more than you will pay. Chances are a private school won’t grant a better skill set than a state university and the state school will cost a lot less.

There are a lot more options today in education than ever before. College is no longer the ultimate prize. The ultimate prize is to develop a skill set that employers drool over and want to have in their organizations. That doesn’t automatically mean a college degree. It may mean a two-year degree, an online degree, practical work experience, self-teaching, or a combination of all of the above. These may end up costing a lot less than college and yet grant a better entrance to the work force. There’s no need to take on crushing debt loads for college if it isn’t necessary for the field you want to work in. Think before assuming that college is necessary.

This entry was posted in Debt, Education, Personal Finance, Work and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Is College Really Necessary?

  1. whitestripe says:

    there’s a skills shortage in australia at the moment, the government are scrambling to recruit apprentices in all trades, businesses are getting cash incentives thrown at them to train apprentices, and apprentices themselves get vouchers and cash payments to help them while they gain their qualification.

    in several areas near where i live, there are streets full of massive mansions, beautiful waterfront homes etc, all owned by tradesmen.

  2. JB says:

    Well I got a liberal arts degree. I feel that my degree hasn’t helped me at all. I went to a state school and didn’t go into debt, but the degree is useless. I do think college is a waste of time and money for many people. I live in a college town. There’s a phoniness to the whole university scene. These kids have no idea how hard the real world is. I’m studying financial planning now which is something I like, and it’s useful. It’s better to study something specific and valuable.

  3. sewingirl says:

    I have two daughters with 5 college degrees between them, both are working good jobs full time, neither in any field related to any of their degrees. In fact their current employers couldn’t have cared less about the schooling, they were both trained “on the job” for what they do. What a waste of time and money.

  4. Maybe a 4yr degree from any college is as necessary as a high school diploma. Is college, the new high school equivalent?

    John DeFlumeri Jr

  5. Princessperky says:

    While I love learning for the sake of learning, I have to agree that a college degree is not the be all end all goal for life.

    College is glamorized by all those pretty recruiting folk. The real world is nothing like college. (nor anything much like highschool for that matter.)

    If I were going to hire anyone, I would much prefer someone with skills than a piece of paper listing their schooling term. (and with volunteer work I can actually do a good deal of ‘management’. Just no choice in who I get)

    Actually in speaking with folk, first impressions are often related to paper (X years in this class, Y previous experience, paid job is in Z field). Then after we work out the kinks I find the ones easiest to work with had the least paper on their side, who have no reason to be good at their volunteer position.

    The only thing I have yet to figure out is how to get to know the folk before I ask them to do a job, I often have to get them to switch to one they are better at.

  6. bb says:

    Without a degree, resumes will only end up in a trash can “faster”.

  7. vga says:

    The reality is that if you want to have a chance at getting a good paying white collar job, a college degree from a four year institution is necessary.

    If you want to play with the big boys then you better get a college degree from a big name school.

  8. eeinnj says:

    As the old saying goes, if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

    College is not real practical for learning a trade, true. But a degree is major advantage in technical professions. Those without a degree may get a lower level job, and they’ll stay there while people with degrees get senior positions. Someone who thinks they can learn to program in their garage and make a life-long career out of it is ignorant- they don’t know how much they don’t know.
    College, even liberal arts, teaches critical thinking, getting to know new and different people, exposure to new ideas, following through on school work when a parent is longer supervising. You may not “use” your degree in the strict sense, but the fact that you completed one at all is the price of admission to many jobs.
    Finally, I learned from working for a major pharma co. that where you went to school matters, too. The people from state schools got staff jobs, people from Ivy league & big name private schools got front office & management jobs.

  9. kenyantykoon says:

    i think the importance of college is overrated. if one has an entrepreneurial spirit the it makes no sense to spend thousands of dollars on a course that it totally unrelated to the kids interest. but sadly the parents want their kids to live their(parents) dreams and are not willing to bend their resolve that “my kid will get the college education that i never had” this is not right or wise. great post btw. i should also link to it 😉

  10. YES. College is absolutely necessary.

    College education teach how to think, research, write, report, present, etc. Most valuable benefit of college is somewhat non-educational — the college experience.

  11. Monkey Mama says:

    Interesting discussion. I was blessed to have a father who had a changed life due to education (first generation high school AND college) and a mother who never used her degree and had many successful relatives without degrees. So education was always stressed as important, but not a “must,” to me. My parents were also extremely practical about college – no need to go into debt over it.

    The most important aspect of my education was juggling school, work, extra-curriculrs, etc. That part shined on my resume, and was very practical “real life” experience. Most of my high school friends who lived off their parents and got “liberal arts” degree still struggle a decade post-college. Still going to school, living at home, working at Wal MArt, etc., etc. A large number of them are broke from their undergrad degrees and are pursuing cheaper degrees in more practical fields. IT seems kind of backwards – but the money is gone and the student loans are maxed before they even know what they really want to do.

    I’d be careful assuming a big name school is the be-all, end-all. In my region and field, this is not the case at all. Various factors are at play – most people hiring went to the local state schools (which are abundant in the region, and have excellent business programs). The private schools in the area tend to have no business programs, or weak ones. My field rewards experience and practicality over education, in general, anyway. Locally priavte-degreed and higher-degreed candidates are never very good. There’s a way to get your resume in a trash, and we are desparate for qualified employees. But we don’t even waste our time any more.

  12. whitestripe says:

    @ mewithoutdebt

    don’t know if the schools are different where i’m from, but we were writing essays in our last year of high school that would only be looked at by the teacher if they were university standard.
    i really don’t think i need to go to college to learn how to ‘think’ 😛

    @bb: it depends what job, obviously.

  13. Scanner says:

    I beleive in the formula:

    2/3rd Paretns
    1/3rd Kids

    share the cost.

    Consider 1rst 2 years at community college.

    College teaches you to critically think, to communicate intelligently (orally and in writing), it gives you elevated literacy, it develops an appreciation of the scientific method, the skil of how to research thoughtfully, and of course, the 3 B’s – Beer, Botany, and Beowulf.

    My 3 sons are expected to all get some form of higher education using the above formula. If one or all of them choose a trade, they still must take “development” courses (such as financial management, business administration if they are going to be a mechanic let’s say).

  14. BigVic says:

    I also believe that a college degree represents goal acheivement to most companies but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is absolutely needed to become successful. I myself got my general education classes out of the way and went to work until I figured out what exactly it was that I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was fortuneate to get a job that had an excellent training program. While here I have gained so many skills that I can bring to another workplace in the future. Skills such as technical, customer service, quality, leadership, public speaking and communication, negotiating, retention, organization, and motivational skills. These are all priceless to me and I don’t think I would have the full affect from just sitting in a classroom. But like I said, I do believe that a degree is a ticket to some interviews and I do plan to go back for that reason.

  15. Robert says:

    I think college serves in the maturation of a young adult. As it has been noted in other comments, College Graduates rarely find employemnt in the field they majored in. Think about it, To figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life by age 22? Our lives are works in progress. It’s an adventure.

  16. This is a very relevant post. I keep hearing people say, “You NEED a degree to get that good job”

    But consider the following.

    What is the purpose of getting this better job? To make more money? Build More wealth?

    Wealth isn’t what you make… it’s what you keep! I know PLENTY of doctors (for example) who make a lot more than most.. but at the same time are STRAPPED with Debt from “education” costs.

    Consider that if that same amount of money was invested at age 18, a person could be a millionaire by the age of retirement. THAT’S WEALTH!

    Also consider that the TRUE path to wealth is not in a good J.O.B., but entrepreneurship (which requires no degree at all)

  17. ThiNg says:

    @Free Your Mind

    I have to agree and second your post.

    I have an arts degree in sociology but work as a computer programmer. If I had invested my university (and wedding expenses – another waste of money!!), I could have bought my house for CASH.

    Then I would have the same job I have now without any debt. I could then bank $2000-3000 a month and get my degree part-time. I would be the same age, with a degree (and wife), but without any debt or mortgage!!

    That’s wealthy!!

  18. Jim says:

    Colleges keep cranking out graduates and putting them in debt just to have some employer say “why should I hire you? I can hire
    someone else for less money and some form of experience.” Both applicants know about the same, as far as day to business operations are concerned. So many employers now prefer a little experience and no degree to a Bachelors degree from a good school.We don’t hold colleges responsible for their end product, why should colleges cared how their graduates do?

  19. Geneva says:

    I am not in debt, and have a job in the scientific field I hope to eventually have a degree in. I got my job though volunteering at a local lab. My mathematical abilities and being good at tinkering with microscopes has had me hired over people with Bachelors degrees at age 21.
    I have been picking up general studies five or ten credits at a time at a community college. This is my third year working on my AA transfer degree. I have to admit it is very painful watching my money and time go into culture and art that is not useful for my work and are totally and completely uninteresting. I am an A student and have won scholarship which have covered most of my expenses, even so every quarter I have been finding myself more and more discontented with the university system. I hope my junior and senior year will meet exception.
    I still think I need the degree to make myself a real scientist. However, I will have to move away from a job that I love and took over a year volunteering to get. The image of a degree sold to me all me life and the reality of my situation don’t match and I am quite confused and conflicted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *