McKissick: A college degree is not worthless

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(Graphic Illustration by Falyn Sebastian | The Collegian)

Nathaniel McKissick, Collegian Columnist

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

There comes a time in most Americans’ lives when they reach a fork in the road. Following high school graduation, one must often ask themself, “What’s next?”

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For a lot of people, they have three options lying before them: pursue a college education, learn a trade or jump into work immediately.

Of the choices mentioned above, about 42.1% of Americans 18-24 years old choose to go to some college, according to the Education Data Initiative. After all, as children and all through high school, how many of us were told pursuing higher education was pivotal to lifelong success and financial stability?

So why is it that in recent years, some people have decided college is a waste of time?

Sure, it’s true that more often than not, what we learn in college courses doesn’t mirror the way work in our chosen field looks. Are you going to learn how to be a practicing psychologist through lectures? Probably not — that requires applied practice in the field through internships.

However, the reality is that the majority of positions nowadays require college degrees. So while it’s true that your coursework alone won’t teach you how to work in your chosen field, a degree is more necessary than ever to land a job that isn’t technically considered low skill.

Additionally, college is more than just the classes you take or the degree you receive. Fraternities, sororities and other campus organizations can provide a place to network and make connections that may help you land a job later in life. Extracurriculars can provide similar benefits, and college internships provide the most utility for getting your foot in the door.

“‘Nearly 4 million adult workers without college degrees have not found work again after losing their jobs in the pandemic,’ while only 199,000 people with college degrees found themselves in a similar situation.”

There’s certainly nothing wrong with working in more menial positions — society certainly would be unable to function without them. However, a college education can lead to better-paying jobs.

As of 2014, the average salary of someone with a bachelor’s degree was roughly double that of someone who didn’t graduate high school. Bachelor’s degree holders also outearned those with a high school diploma by about $19,000.

Those without a college degree suffer more than those with one during times of crisis as well. During the Great Recession, those who had a high school education or less were affected most adversely in employment.

report released by Georgetown University in 2016 revealed that following the recession, over 95% of the new jobs created went to people with college degrees. The economy went to workers with some form of higher education.

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More recently, The Washington Post reported that the COVID-19 pandemic affected the employment of those without college degrees more adversely, saying, “Nearly 4 million adult workers without college degrees have not found work again after losing their jobs in the pandemic,” while only 199,000 people with college degrees found themselves in a similar situation.

Detractors of college argue that since more and more people are pursuing higher education, degrees are losing their value. While it’s true that college enrollment rates have generally risen in recent decades — with the exception of the most recent — employment rates among those with a college degree skew higher than those without one.

Sure, vocational trades can offer decent salaries for a fraction of the cost of college tuition, but they’re oftentimes physically taxing or just plain dangerous. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction employees, steel workers and roofers have some of the highest fatality rates in America.

It goes without saying that the cost of a college education has risen exuberantly in recent decades, rendering it inaccessible to some. However, those who have the privilege to pursue higher education should not be belittled or mocked for their decision to do so. Though it may be expensive, a college degree is far from worthless.

Reach Nathaniel McKissick at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @NateMcKissick.