Simplicity Challenge #7: Are education costs really worth it?

Graduation cap on top of piles of money that were required in order to graduate
Before I get started, let me say this: I believe wholeheartedly in education, and in being a lifelong learner! And I'm thankful for all the teachers and professors out there who work hard to teach the rest of us.

What I’m going to write about today concerns the rising costs of higher education, beyond high school.

I’ve seen a lot of videos and articles about it, but I always come back to this one, in which Sir Ken Robinson sums it up perfectly:

Sir Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

And apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so… because this is the most watched TED talk of all time!

What I’m thinking about is the purpose of education, and rapidly elevating tuition costs. As Sir Ken Robinson puts it, we’re undergoing ‘Educational Inflation’.

This means that college graduates, years ago, used to be guaranteed a job – just obtaining a 4-year degree was enough to set you apart from the competition.

Nowadays, our society (I’m referring specifically to my own experience in the U.S.) has an obsession with college education. There seems to be a mindset that 4-year degrees are one-size-fits-all, and that EVERYONE should have one.

And once a large enough portion of the workforce has 4-year degrees… then a Master’s degree is suddenly needed to get a specific job, where the requirement was formerly just a Bachelor’s degree.

Then, once enough people get a Master’s degree, the price of entry rises to a Doctorate degree…

I’m not opposed to Doctorates – I have one myself, and as I mentioned, I support lifelong learning and continual self-improvement.

However, with rising education costs, Doctorate degrees aren’t all they’re cracked up to be anymore…

By which I mean, the costs of tuition at many universities are starting to outweigh the starting salaries that can be obtained with that degree…

Of course, money isn’t everything. But let me tell that starting your working career with a monthly student loan payment of OVER $1,400 is no picnic…

Plus, the whole situation points to an interesting reversal…

It used to be true that we went to college to get a job… but now, many graduates choose a job based on whether or not the salary will support their student loan payments.

In other words, rather than going to school to get a good job… we’re getting a job in order to support our education costs.

So what, then, is the true purpose of our college education nowadays?

Of course, getting a job is still a large part of the reason - after all, that degree is required for many jobs…

But my point is, when and why did it flip flop like that, to the point where some jobs can no longer support the costs of the education required in order to get the job?

It seems like a system that can’t sustain itself forever… so, what’s the solution?

I don’t have all the answers - but, I think it’s helpful to discuss these sorts of problems rather than just blindly claiming that things are fine, and that nothing needs to change.

With that in mind, what are some of the alternative options?

Possibilities might include:

-Encourage employment during college. After all, if you live on campus while attending school, especially during the undergrad years, it can sometimes feel like a bit of a bubble where there's a whole lot of partying and football. It's not always an ideal place to teach the life skills that you might hope an educated, career-minded adult should have...
Maybe having a job and additional responsibilities could change that. However, I do recognize that that's not always possible. And that's especially true for certain grueling graduate programs, where students are in classes, labs, and clinical rotations for 40 hours per week or more... sometimes much more, even 80-100 hours per week or more...

-Consider less expensive options, such as online schools or flexible programs that allow working adults to earn a degree WHILE holding down a job.
Often these options are looked upon as less worthy than a 4-year degree... but why? Is a dedicated student who’s learning online in their evenings really less qualified than an on-campus undergrad who skates by with passing grades and rolls in to their classes hungover and barely coherent after a night of partying and living the “college life?”
I think the amount of information learned and retained will vary by the efforts of the student, not by the format of the classes.

-Take away the stigma of technical degrees. For example, I know some welders who earn more than I earn with my doctorate - and, they went to school for less than one-eighth of the time that I did!
I understand why so many parents might want their kids to be doctors, or end up in another “successful” profession... but, would it be reasonable to let go of social views of who’s “successful” and who’s not, and consider instead a combination of true earning potential, stability, personal aptitudes, and happiness? 

-Recognize that the face of employment is changing. Loyalty to long-term employees is phasing out at many companies, with pension plans and other guaranteed retirement options dwindling, and many jobs being eliminated without much compensation.
Plus, according to Forbes, the U.S. work force is 36% freelance! And in another 10 years, it may be just over 50%! So, it's not just a Millennial thing anymore... more and more employees, of all ages, are seeking out alternative options, knowing that staying with one particular job long-term doesn't guarantee the same stability and rewards that it used to...
As these changes continue to happen, at what point do we have to let go of the idea that the “old” model of education might not be serving us the same way it used to?

I’ll delve back into this topic again in the future. For now, let me know what you think! I’d love to hear your experience and thoughts on my Facebook page.