Is Higher Education Worth The Price Of Admission?

by Olivia Azevedo

In the last few months no one can open a newspaper, follow a twitter feed or eavesdrop on a conversation without coming across with the topic of jobs, better yet, the lack of.


For many decades parents consistently insisted on an education for their kids for the simple fact that an education would give them a better chance in the job market. Financial sacrifices were and are being made in order to achieve this.


Many fights ensue: between kids that don’t want to go to college, don’t know what they want to do or simply don’t like to make the effort and their well intentioned and soon-to-be broke parents. Eventually, one side concedes defeat and here it goes: another batch of prospective candidates to a good job or more jobless uneducated pariahs. Is it as straightforward as that?


In the UK (like in many different countries) there are even rules in place that decide which school your little one must attend. These “catchment areas” can be parents’ worst enemies or greatest allies depending on which side of the fence your postcode happens to fall in.


If the school has a bad reputation, some will go to great lengths to get the golden ticket to a better institution: send the offspring to live with their grandparents in the ideal “catchment area”, pack your things and move houses, or simply lie to the school authorities and incur the penalties if discovered.


Over $81,000 is what you’ll spend in the USA for four years of schooling in a public university or double the amount if you go private. But it is all in the name of a better future. After all: education equals jobs, right?


There are scores of people with college degrees, yet unemployment rates seem to be pretty constant, albeit with a few fluctuations (usually with inconspicuous arrows pointing up rather than down in these unassuming charts). So, what isn’t working here? On first glance, it really seems that one of education’s roles is to delay our membership into the workers club…


Is there“credential inflation”? Some argue yes, the number of new jobs requiring college degrees is less than the number of college graduates. Some economists even go further in the accusations: the more money the state “invests” on higher education, the slower is economic growth - or precisely the opposite of long held theories. It’s hard to see where hard evidence gives way to speculation. Where did this education/job combo started anyway?


It’s difficult to think straight when it comes to employment, the job system is exactly that: a system and like all manmade structures it relies on so many variables. Our jobs like it or not, define us. The lack of one becomes a stigma.


We even created jobs to overview our jobs. Career advisers, job centers, unions, managerial roles, etc. The machine gets heavier and more difficult to maneuver. It’s a system and a very capitalist one at heart.


Undoubtedly, since the institution of a job system there is prosperity, technological progress, safety and even broadband connection. Millions are perfectly happy with their lot in life and will ignore all the negatives in the system. The problem is the recession happened and with it the revelation of the king’s state of undress: suddenly the system is not so invisible and we start to see the cracks and the peeling paint.


Politicians have been using the lure of more jobs in their usual political speeches of “I promise you more jobs and economic growth”. So far what we have achieved in America and Europe is more debt. We send our kids to school for longer periods of time, delay their entrance in active workforce, and when this period ends there’s not even enough jobs for the ones already there. So what do we do?


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One Response to Is Higher Education Worth The Price Of Admission?

  1. This is a great article and such a critical question! When I look back to my undergraduate days, I wonder how much of that contributed to my ability to adapt to my first sales job? I think of how much I had to learn, on the job, then and even now. I recently met a young woman with a child, a receptionist at a clients office. She was struggling with whether or not to spend a small fortune on a private school college degree, or continue education at a community college for a more realistic sum of money. A more expensive or prestigious college is no guarantee of the equivalent increase in salary, especially given the expected pay ranges for certain fields. Meaning, with focus and energy, and a pitch to sell your skills in an interview, a $10,000 degree will get many people as much success as a much more expensive one. I have an MBA and I still had to work to reinvent myself in this economy. Education can expand our understanding of the world, but in the long run, it will take a lot more than that piece of paper to be a success.

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