Over the past few years, there has been a growing discourse addressing the value of enrolling in higher education. The question is not one of preference; 40% of millennial workers obtained a bachelor’s degree in 2016 compared to 26% of baby boomers in 1985. As this percentage continues to grow with Generation Z entering the workforce, it seems that going to college is more preferable now than ever. However, it should also be considered that even though tuition rates and student housing costs have skyrocketed over the past few decades, the average starting salary for bachelor’s degree earners has increased by less than $3,000 between 1960 and 2015. Given this trade-off, it can be speculated that the decision to go to college today isn’t made from preference as much as it is necessity.
Last month, Patriot Act host Hasan Minhaj asserted in one of his episodes that while having a bachelor’s degree in the 90’s gave applicants a competitive edge in the hiring process, it is now a mandatory qualification to be eligible for an entry-level salary even in industries that do not exhibit high revenue growth rates. Though he followed it with a joke about universities using endowment funds to build theme park attractions, the veracity of his statement still stands. It has become a popular sentiment in the past few years that higher education is now corporatized in an almost irreparable way.
Though enforcing harder requirements for prospective employees to have a college education is better for innovation and productivity across industries, it is unfortunately at the expense of students’ tied hands. Theoretically, higher education costs can continue to increase even as salaries for entry-level positions stay stagnant. Even if institutions begin implementing cost-cutting procedures (as is happening now due to COVID-19), faculty and department staff will be disadvantaged, which in turn limits student opportunity and learning accessibility.
Is it possible to be successful without going to college? Absolutely. But there is no denying that it will be increasingly harder to be established, especially in a post-pandemic economy, without one. The reality is that the amount of money invested into obtaining a degree may end up being more than what that graduate will be projected to earn. Though there are various parties actively fighting the student debt crisis at the civic, corporate, and legislative levels, it is uncertain whether this growing issue will have a solution anytime soon.
This ultimately means that the best decision to be made by students who intend to get a degree is to take advantage of college. It is crucial to gain work and extracurricular experience as a student not only to save time in planning for and applying to jobs after graduation, but to provide a competitive advantage in the workplace, gain networking opportunities, and, most importantly, nurture the potential for industries to advance and assure better and more accessible job opportunities in the future.