College might not be for everyone

StudentsShould all students be heading to college after high school? That question is the subject of a recent Forbes article released last week. The article, which examines arguments for and against higher education in today’s cultural and economic climate, is not only a powerful piece in its own right, but seems to be a fairly blatant rebuttal to a recent New York Times article that concluded, unequivocally, that college is the way to go for everyone.

The New York Times article, by David Leonhardt, makes the point that in today’s world the 13 years of education that US citizens receive throughout their childhood and teen years is becoming less and less efficient. He argues that 15 or 17 years of education is the new “universal goal” and is increasingly viewed as standard by employers. He argues that this point becomes increasingly clear with the increasing technological complexity of the modern workspace.

Adam Ozimek, a writer for Forbes, agrees with many of Leonhardt’s points, but says that the notion that college is a good investment for everyone is a fallacy. Largely, he argues, this is due to the financial background a college applicant might come from, which has a direct influence on the amount of loans they will likely need to take out in order to pay for school, and how long it will take them to start earning more money than if they had simply began work out of high school (if ever).

He also argues that there are many cases in which people already in college are not making the best decision. This is largely dependent on the actual degree being studied, and a recent study pointed out several fields, including literature and English degrees, in which, even 20 years after graduation, the average graduate can still be well over $100,000 short of the amount of money they would have had at the same point in their lives had they begun a career at 18.

With the increasing popularity of college attendance, other skilled work which does not require a specific degree is starting to pay more. A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report cited several careers – real estate broker, service mail carrier, police and sheriff’s patrol officer, gas plant operator, and more – that all carry median salaries of over $50,000 per year.

Omizek argues that these represent a few of the cases in which non-college graduates may have salaries that top of those of their collegiate counterparts, especially at the entry level.

Even so, he stresses that it is still true that college-educated workers will have higher wages on average, and higher earning potentials in the long run of their careers. For many people, college will be a beneficial decision and will pay off. His intention, he says, is to simply state that college is not necessarily the end-all be-all solution for all young people. “We need more realism in this debate,” he says, and it appears his article is simply meant to provide a bit of this other perspective.