The Argument for Attending College and the Myths of Non-College Paths
Spurred on by escalating college costs, concerns about the amount of learning on campuses, and that age old affliction known as anti-intellectualism, recent months have witnessed the emergence of vocal critics of mass college education. Peter Thiel and James Altucher in New York Magazine called upon Americans to avoid college and head into the work force. A Pew Research Center study revealed that a mere 40 percent of Americans believed that college was worth it, though 86 percent of college graduates expressed faith in its value. While arguments can be made on behalf of the intrinsic intellectual merits of college and the formal exchange of ideas, Americans are a pragmatic and results oriented people. Most Americans would ask how a college education will benefit them concretely over a life-time or “where’s the beef.” The answer is three-fold.
1. COLLEGE IS A PRE-CONDITION FOR GOING FROM RAGS TO MIDDLE CLASS STATUS OR RICHES
A Brookings Study found the American dream of class mobility is improbable without a college degree. Only 14 percent of Americans from the bottom fifth of parental income without a college education climb to the top two fifths. In contrast, if they complete college 41 percent of this group penetrates the top two fifths.
2. COLLEGE GRADUATES HAVE MORE JOBS AND FUN
While the unemployment rate in 2010 was 5.4 percent for college graduates, it was almost twice as high at 10.3 percent of those with only a high school degree, and almost three times as high at 14.9 percent for those without a high school degree. Individuals with a masters degree had a 4 percent unemployment rate. That’s right college graduates get the jobs which means they generally have more fun because they’re able to make more money, build a career and eventually support their own families.
3. COLLEGE GRADUATES EARN MUCH MORE THAN THEIR NON-COLLEGE COUNTERPARTS OVER A LIFE-TIME
The life-time earnings gap between an individual with a bachelors degree and a person with a high school degree is almost a million dollars at $2.1 million and $1.2 million respectfully. A professional degree translates into life-time earnings of around $4.4 million. The wealth or total assets disparity between college graduates and non-graduates is even greater. The only American educational sub-group which did not see their wealth stagnate or decline over the last forty years were the roughly 27 percent of Americans with bachelor or graduate/professional degrees.
In the new millennium college is crucial for economic success and a relatively secure future. Those who discourage higher education are doing a disservice, in particular, to young people from non-college educated households who in the absence of education will find themselves marginalized and with little hope for a better life. Unlike Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Apple’s Steve Jobs, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, most of those who spurn a Bachelors degree will languish in low paying and transient positions struggling to meet basic needs. While higher education is always in need of criticism and reform, the non-college track is largely a dead-end.
David Dickson is on the admissions and educational counseling team for Top Test Prep. Top Test Prep has several education experts who can help families navigate the path of college admissions and build futures for their families.