The Real Value of a College Education

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College recruiters have a tougher job selling a traditional education with the cost of college going through the roof. Parents and students still want the best for their money, but with a bleak economy and depressed job market, they want to know they’re going to get a decent return on their investment. Just like you can’t time the market or predict the future, you can’t be sure the education you pay a hefty price for today is going to result in a lucrative job four, six or even ten years later.


Happily or not, the federal government is the prime financier of higher education, providing student loans at low rates and delayed repayment plans. But after graduation, along with a diploma and maybe a job offer, you get a payment booklet from Uncle Sam who wants his money back. With so many college grads scrambling for entry-level jobs to get a foot in the door, it’s tough to stretch a small paycheck over student loan payments, rent, food, cable TV and Internet, and a Smartphone bill. 


One possible bright spot in the higher education dilemma is online education. Controversial in its quality and acceptance in the workplace, it may not be the value people think it is. In a Forbes article, “Online Education Will Be The Next ‘Bubble’ to Pop, Not Traditional University Learning,” John Tammy discusses the merits of a traditional university education versus online education or no post-secondary education at all.


Who needs to spend $50,000 for a diploma from Brown University when so many successful people never graduated from a college or university? William Friedkin, the Academy Award-winning director, graduated from high school in 1953 and never went any further. Steven Spielberg couldn’t get into USC’s film school. Bill Gates (Microsoft), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Michael Dell (Dell Computers), and Steve Jobs (Apple) all dropped out of college. These innovators and entrepreneurs learned by doing, thinking and taking risks. So, is this evidence that a college education isn’t essential to success? For every Steve Jobs and Michael Dell there are hundreds of thousands of dropouts that don’t make it. What these few incredibly talented and ingenious individuals have is an insatiable curiosity and imagination and the resilience to try and fail and try again. These are things you don’t learn in university. The techniques and information may be helpful, but the inherent genius can’t be learned or bought.


Online education offers a lower price tag and courses taught by big names with a diploma from some of the finest and most prestigious colleges and universities from the comfort of your home or office. You can end up with a diploma with a pedigree, but the experience of attending a college or university, interacting with other students and professors is, in some cases, more valuable than the learning itself.


As the article points out, parents shell out the big bucks on an Ivy League education not for the name on a diploma, but for the ability for students to make connections. They are buying the right friends for their children, the right connections for the future, the ability to find a life partner from the same social status or higher so their children can move into the right social circles. And yes, they are buying the sticker for the back of the SUV that says, “My child is a graduate of Harvard U.” In the end, going to college is not about learning—it’s more about the experience.


Schools like Stanford, Yale, Brown and even the smaller universities are “door openers.” Students don’t necessarily have to get straight A’s or graduate cum laude to get the benefit of the college experience. It’s making the right friends, building relationships with influential professors, administrators, parents and relatives of friends, and fraternity brothers or sorority sisters that counts. Students may forget or never use half of what they learn, but the connections and friends they make while in college are priceless.


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  • Mary Nestor-Harper
    Mary Nestor-Harper
    I can understand your frustration, Karl, after all that work and money, and to have an entire country dismiss the value of your degree.  And Glenda, things change so fast that a college degree can have different value depending on the employer and the job.  Don't lose hope.  In today's job market you have to have a degree if you want to move into a professional or management job.
  • GlendaT
    A college education helped me in my career immediately after graduation.  I don't know, though, many years later if it even matters.  I worked hard and took traditional classroom courses and worked full time.  No online classes were available at that time.
  • Karl F W
    Karl F W
    I graduated with a 3.64 in Communication Studies from Rowan University, completed an internship at Channel 6 Action News abc in Philly, PA, completed an internship in Germany, am told that I am good looking, have a great looking wife, so it must be somewhat true, but applied 200 times 18 months before I was done for jobs in Germany and live in Germany since 2011 and can only find work as an English-trainer, which is terrible and not what I studied.I have lived in Berlin for a year, for 8 mths in Munich, now for 2 years in Hamburg, visited Berlin 11 times for 3 weeks, took private German lesson from a German professor from my University who is from Northern, Germany, so I can speak German, as well, BUTEverybody in Germany, Americans, Germans, German Americans, Japanese Germans, Greek Americans and Germans who were born in America but raised in Germany from German parents, tell me over and over that my Bachelors degree is WORTHLESS!!! in Germany because it is not a German Bachelors, or because a Masters is what everyone has in Germany.I have tried everything from German or American recruiters, Linkedin, Monster, Xing and much more, but still not a single good interview in 2 years.I think 67,000.00 was wasted.Sincerely,Karl

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