Sunday, April 6, 2014

Is a College Degree Worthwhile?

I am very opinionated on university level education and found a recent study that supports my opinions.  Of course if I found a study that contradicted my opinions I would not be writing about it, but that is beside the point.

I believe that you should have clear expectations for your future when you pick a degree to pursue and a university to attend.  If you choose to pursue a degree that teaches you little that is of practical use in society, you should not expect to be any better off than someone who quits after High School and goes to work.  For example, a BA in French History will not qualify you for a well paying job in your field when you graduate.  Another example is a BSc in Physics, which will give you knowledge of physics, advanced math and computer programming will likely qualify you for a well-paying job in many industries including Nuclear power, Information Technology, Simulation, Semiconductors, etc.

An extension of this is that if you took on $50,000 of debt to get your BA in History ($100,000 if you decided to go to a school away from home), you are actually worse off than your classmate who finished High School and got a job at Sears stocking shelves.  You may never catch up with the high school graduate who spent $100,000 less and worked 4 years while you were at university.

This does not mean that there is anything wrong with a BA, just know what you are getting with the degree.  Don't graduate and complain that you cannot get a good job with your degree.  Be happy that you have studied something you love (I hope) and accept that you are more likely to struggle financially.

A company called Payscale has updated their yearly study of the return on investment of a university degree, by major, by school, etc.  The results align with my opinions:

  • Practical degrees like engineering, science, education, medicine .. are good investments
  • Degrees with little practical use are poor investments
  • There are some degrees that benefit society, give you a good job, and give you more satisfaction, but are not as lucrative, such as Nursing or Special Education.
  • Degrees from better universities are better investments but this is not a simple cause and effect.  Better universities are more selective and pick better students, so the better pay is at least partly due to the intelligence of the students independent of the fancy university where they studied.
Below is a graph from the study and I encourage you and your children to take a look at the website.

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