23 May 2013

Is A Bachelor's Degree Worth It? -- Key Arguments & Ideas - "No"

The other major group's base argument is that in these current economic times, it may not make sense to try to get everyone through university. Moreover, "feel-good" policies and assumptions may end up causing damage or requiring that we solve other issues.

As has been said, there's a difference between being realistic and anti-education, and most people in this camp aren't so much anti-education as they are insistent on being realistic. Thus our focus with this camp are the "realists" and not with the fervent (and usually religiously-fundamentalist) anti-education voices.

Like the last section, we can break this camp's arguments, figures, and ideas into several categories: practicality, philosophical, economic, and educational.


  • People learn in different ways; their preferred styles of learning and application of that learning may not be in a classroom and poring over textbooks that discuss theory
    • For example, some people are better-suited to learn in a lab environment, some prefer to learn online in their homes, and others would have done best in an apprenticeship or journeyman programme
  • There are other options available for younger people that aren't as heavily promoted as four-year universities such as
    • community colleges (also known as technical colleges and junior colleges)
    • licenced vocational schools 
    • trade and union apprenticeships 
    • enlistment in the US Armed Forces 
  • These alternate options are somewhat stigmatised in society even though they may be able to better serve some people and professions
  • Many high school guidance counsellors are seen as impersonal or lacking in knowledge about helping high school juniors and seniors determine which post-secondary options may be right for them  

[Chewie's note on this last point: Cato and I both had these kinds of counsellors, who heavily promoted either four-year universities or enlisting in the Armed Forces. To this day, we suspect these counsellors' push for four-year universities had more to do with boosting graduation statistics and political clout than it did in furthering our interests. Neither of us doubted on going to a university, so perhaps it was different for others who didn't want to go.]


  • As the old saying goes, "the world will always need ditch-diggers."
    • To the point, even if we educated everyone, some people will still end up being ditch-diggers even though they've been through schooling.  
  • Learning does not necessarily equate to poring over textbooks, listening to lectures, and passing exams
  • Having a "one size fits all" approach to post-secondary education activity doesn't allow for flexibility and tends to assume that all students are the same in terms of ability, learning style, and financial background
  • We already have serious issues in the quality of our K-12 educational system, and perhaps a bigger priority would be to rectify those issues
    • It's certainly possible that some of the concerns related to college readiness and the impact of a university education are the result of society's failure to address and reinforce primary and secondary education, thus it makes sense to improve K-12 education first
  • What is the true purpose of a university?
    • Is it to provide "job skills" or to promote abstract thinking and learning? 
  • With degree-holders already hurting and forced to compete against each other in a lousy economic and social environment, does it really make sense to "fan the flames" by adding MORE people for these individuals to have to compete with into an increasingly cutthroat job market? 


  • Tuition costs have surged over the past 20 years, which is making college unaffordable for a growing number of Americans
    • It's estimated that in the past 25 years, tuition costs have spiralled at a 130% rate at public universities [5]
    • Financial aid issues have risen as it's become more apparent to students and parents that the amount of aid available has utterly failed to match the increases in tuition [5]
    • All of this is happening during a period where median wages have at best remained stagnant [5]
    • 48% of Americans ages 18-34 say they are unable to afford college [10, 11]
  • That surge means that more people are left with little choice but to finance their education with loans, which in turnends up leaving many young people deeply in debt upon graduation
  • Student loan debt is already over $1.1 trillion dollars, and is having a deleterious impact on young Americans [11]
    • Approximately 30% of students who take out loans drop out of school before completing their degrees; 
      • They are also known to be at higher risks of delinquency and/or default--in 2009, 33% of such borrowers ended up in delinquency and 26% defaulted [3]
    • Approximately 17% of borrowers are 90+ days past-due on their loans [4]
    • Only about 37% of borrowers between 2004 and 2009 promptly repay without postponements, deferments, or delinquencies [3]
    • 41% of borrowers are delinquent at some point within the first five years of repayment [3, 4]
    • $8 billion in private loans have gone into default [13]
    • More than half of outstanding federal student loans are in deferral or default [14]
  • As a result of taking on large amounts of debt for their education, graduates often delay or avoid many of the traditional "symbols" of American adulthood, such as:
    • Major life decisions such as getting married and starting a family
    • Major large-scale purchases such as buying homes and cars 
    • Both of which have major (and often adverse) impacts on the overall economy


  • Not everyone is necessarily mature or otherwise "ready" to undertake and complete a bachelor's degree, and then to apply those skills
  • Some people are already working, have families, and/or have other personal issues that interfere with the traditional university setting; not everyone has the luxury of being able to attend a university full-time


  • Among college students starting at a four-year college or university, only 34 percent complete their degrees in four years; another 30 percent manage to get it done within six years, and another 5 percent get theirs within 8.5 years [2]
  • Only a fraction of high school graduates are prepared for college
    • 17% of recent four-year college entrants had to take at least one remedial course in their first year [6, 7]
      • It's worth noting that usually, remedial classes 
        • do not offer college credit 
        • take up space on a student schedule and may delay the length of time it takes to get a degree
        • incur additional costs and fees to the student
  • The rigor of a college education has dropped in recent years
    • There is growing evidence of grade inflation, particularly at some of the nation's most prestigious schools
    • It's common for students to advertise to each other which classes don't require a lot of effort to secure high marks (usu. an A or B) and are thus "easy"
      • Popular websites for these include "CourseRank" and "RateMyProfessors" 
    • Students are studying less and consequently not showing gains in traditional collegiate skills such as complex thinking and communication [8]
    • Students are also studying less; 35% study less than five hours a week [8]
    • Fewer students are reporting that professors are requiring longer term papers and reading assignments; half of surveyed students indicated that they did not have any courses that required papers exceeding 20 pages in length [8] 
    • Faculty are well aware of the increasing power of student evaluations, which tend to suggest that making "easy" classes that are graded leniently will result in more positive evaluations [8]
  • Not all majors are created equal, some are obviously better returns than others [1]
    • According to a 2012 Forbes listing [15], these are the 10 worst majors as determined by unemployment rates for recent grads (aged 22-26); median starting salaries are also given:
      • Film & Photography (12.9%; $30,000)
      • Fine Arts (12.6%; $30,000)
      • Graphic Design (11.8%; $32,000)
      • Philosophy / Religious Studies (10.8%; $30,000)
      • Archaeology/Anthropology (10.5%; $28,000)
      • History (10.2%; $32,000)
      • Liberal Arts (9.2%; $30,000)
      • Music (9.2%; $30,000)
      • English Language and Literature (9.2%; $32,000)
      • Physical Fitness / Parks & Recreation (8.3%; $30,000)
    • The median starting salary for a bachelor's degree holder across all majors for the Class of 2012 is $44,455 [16]


  • Not every career is one that necessarily requires a university degree; there still are skilled trades where having experience and demonstrated skill has more relevance to the job and the employer; 
    • Often, these are either skilled trades (such as machining, construction/HVAC/plumbing, dental assisting, firefighting) or skilled studies meant to serve as efficient entrances into careers (such as into nursing and Information Technology)
  • We are starting to see college graduates resorting to working in lower-wage service-sector jobs (think retail, fast-food, etc.) just to have some source of income; 53% of college degree holders are currently either jobless or underemployed [9, 12]
    • This has the implication that a majority of degree-holders are currently unable to find gainful employment because supply of degree-holding job candidates is outstripping the specific demand for degree-holders
    • Further, this trend is predicted to get worse by 2020; degree-holder growth is projected to be around 31% with growth in degree-requiring jobs expected to be only 14%
  • Credential inflation is a serious risk with policies meant to foster "college for all," especially with the inevitable trend of more people having bachelor's degrees
    • In the process, employers may simply use a requirement for a bachelor's degree as a weeding tool even when the work doesn't actually require any sort of university education
    • As a result of the aforementioned employer shut-out, people without degrees are often left scrambling for the lowest-level menial work that pays the least; most of these jobs pay at or slightly above the minimum wage and rarely carry benefits such as decent health-insurance or provisions for retirement
    • Ultimately, credential inflation results in the lower-class and other disadvantaged segments of society from gaining employment, thus creating a permanently-unemployable "underclass" caste that in turn perpetuates poverty and other signs of social and economic decay

Works Cited: 

[1] http://www9.georgetown.edu/grad/gppi/hpi/cew/pdfs/unemployment.final.update1.pdf

[2] http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/higher-education/news/2008/04/23/4197/theres-more-to-college-than-just-getting-in/

[3] http://www.asa.org/pdfs/corporate/delinquency_the_untold_story.pdf

[4] http://www.newyorkfed.org/newsevents/mediaadvisory/2013/Lee022813.pdf

[5] http://money.cnn.com/2011/06/13/news/economy/college_tuition_middle_class/index.htm

[6] http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2008/2008174.pdf

[7] http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2013/2013013.pdf

[8] http://www.npr.org/2011/02/09/133310978/in-college-a-lack-of-rigor-leaves-students-adrift

[9] http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/04/53-of-recent-college-grads-are-jobless-or-underemployed-how/256237/

[10] http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/HigherEdReport.pdf

[11] http://capitalogix.typepad.com/public/2012/12/strange-as-it-may-sound-us-student-debt-may-be-a-catalyst-to-the-next-crisis.html

[12] http://campusprogress.org/articles/overqualified_underemployed_college_grads_get_first_real-life_econ_lesson_i/

[13] http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201207_cfpb_Reports_Private-Student-Loans.pdf

[14] http://www.forbes.com/sites/moneybuilder/2013/02/01/alarming-number-of-student-loans-are-delinquent/

[15] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2012/10/11/the-10-worst-college-majors/

[16] http://money.cnn.com/2013/01/10/pf/college/graduate-salaries/index.html

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