Several newspaper editorial boards from the United Kingdom to Malaysia have debated the worth of higher education. Their basic thesis: College education is overrated, as students don’t always get their money’s worth.
Marty Nemko, a well-known career coach who holds a doctorate in education evaluation, has called college “America’s most overrated product” numerous times.
But Nemko and editorial boards alike are misguided in their criticism of college.
For the second quarter of this year, college graduates earned an average of $1,105 a week compared to the $620 of high school graduates, according to the Bureau of Labor.
That is not to say that non-college graduates are not capable of earning the same or more than their degreed counterparts. History has seen many succeed without degrees, but that doesn’t mean that an ideal job is within the grasp of a person of average intelligence without a college diploma.
It is misleading for people like Nemko to brandish rare anomalies like top chef Wolfgang Puck and acclaimed poet Maya Angelou as proof that college isn’t necessary. Degreed or not, they are geniuses at their crafts and are certainly exceptions, not a rule by which career experts should counsel.
It is true that in an increasingly competitive global workplace, employers demand the brightest and best employees. Though few students graduate from college fully prepared to take on the real world, it is hard to say that they do not come out prepared at all.
That’s the core purpose of the bare-bones liberal arts education required by most accredited colleges and universities: General education courses and training in the humanities develop critical reading and reasoning skills. And though there may be students who are just not ready for higher education, it’s a poorly reasoned argument to say those students devalue a college diploma.
Students today — many from minority or immigrant backgrounds — are willing to pile on debt to receive the education that their parents and grandparent never did.
They want to take a chance even if they didn’t excel in high school. To describe their struggle — and, sometimes, failure — in college as a waste again seems incorrect.
Sure, many freshmen aren’t prepared to attend a university. And sure, some probably don’t benefit from a college education. But it is preposterous to devalue higher education as a whole because of these groups. College coursework might not be the ticket to prosperity it was in the past, but the fact remains that getting a degree — or even just taking classes — helps individuals better themselves, often serving as a key to gainful employment.