The Real Value of College

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St. Cloud State University

Is education really that important? What is the true value of a college education? Will college be worth it? These are questions that I’m sure every person in America from the ages of 16-22 has asked themselves at one point or another. There are plenty of articles all over the web that take strong positions on both sides of this issue. One example is John Cassidy’s article in The New Yorker, titled College Calculus, where he weighs the pros and cons of getting a college degree, and repercussions of each. Cassidy discusses the advantages of a university education in this quote, “proper education would make people better citizens.” Conversely, he also states, “[college] has been financially crippling.” After looking at both sides, I believe a college education and education in general is valuable because it only benefits you in the long run.

To begin, I want to try and answer the question about the importance of an education. When you grow up in a middle class family in America, a certain significance on education is almost expected. This was exactly the case for my upbringing. Also, I never truly realized the importance of education on a personal level, and I didn’t understand the true value of education until I came here to St. Cloud State University. As a matter of fact, going to school here inspired me in so many ways. By being around so many knowledgeable people in my various classes, it has made me want to experience a quality education. I’m a strong believer in the idea that experience is the best teacher; while being here at St. Cloud, I have gone through an experience that I am positive could not be replicated anywhere else. I quickly realized that in order to reach my goal of knowing all of the things I wanted to know, I needed to become more educated.

Along the same lines as the importance of a college education is whether or not a quality education is worth it in the long run. This is really the debate of cost vs. value. Recent studies have shown a rise in both the amount of people attending college as well as the cost of college. Both of these developments can be attributed to the poor economy in the last decade. An argument that is gaining a lot of popularity is the idea that college will never pay off because of insurmountable tuition costs, and the accompanying debt. This idea is a rather naïve one because it is based on the myth that a college education can only be measured monetarily. Likewise, many people are looking at the models of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as examples as to why college isn’t worth it or even necessary. The reason so many people have heard of and are aware of these two celebrity dropouts is because they are such an anomaly. Thousands of people drop out of college every semester all over the nation, and unsurprisingly most do not benefit from this decision.

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple

The value of a college education has changed greatly over time. Just a few decades ago, a college degree would set you apart from the pack as a highly educated and gifted individual. Back then college was strictly for the wealthy and naturally gifted student. In today’s day and age, a degree from a four-year university is almost seen as an expectation. Some even say that higher education serves mainly as a “sorting mechanism.” With this being said, getting a high education does not guarantee you a higher paying job if recent trends hold true. This may be disheartening for some, because from a monetary perspective, college is becoming less and less valuable. However, if you truly look at how people are changed by college, you will understand that life is not just about the money, it is the overall experience.

The experiences and events that happen during your time at a college or university cannot be replaced by any payment from an employer. Even in the few short weeks I have been here at St. Cloud State University, I have made relationships with students, fellow employees, and even professors that I would have never made without coming here to St. Cloud. I have also learned and absorbed countless amounts of information about things I never would have known had I stayed home and not gone away for school. For instance, I learned more about the conflicts in Africa in one 20-minute conversation with a professor than I had learned in all my previous years of schooling. The knowledge that can be gained in a university setting cannot be compared to any amount of checks earned right out of high school. What can be gained however, is wisdom and happiness in life; happiness can be worth much more than money.

A common argument that is made is that a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education will pay you more and get you a better job. This belief is a myth. While STEM careers and degrees may seem like a better option because they pay well right out of college and there are usually plenty of job openings, they limit you as an individual by putting you in a vocational box, and employers are taking note of this. A recent national survey of employers has shown that “93 percent” of employers would prefer a degree that is not in the STEM field(s).

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STEM vs. Liberal Arts

Although STEM careers are great options for some people, a more fulfilling college choice would be a liberal arts degree. I may be a little biased in saying this, considering I am majoring in psychology, but this is also backed by facts. There have been studies of employers that say the most valuable attributes of a prospective employee are the attributes generally associated with liberal arts degrees. A degree in a liberal arts field gives you a wide range of abilities that allow you to perform and adapt to a number of potential careers.

All in all, my advice is to get a college education. As long as it is affordable, and the necessary skills to attend a university are possessed, it should be done. The pros of getting a proper education far outweigh the cons. Education is valuable; in the short run in may not seem that way, but I can tell you from going through it myself, being educated can and probably will change your life forever.

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