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Letter: Are College Degrees Worth It?

Are college degrees worth the time, effort, and money required to obtain them? Tough question. A question that would have been akin to asking “is oxygen of any value?” back in the 1950’s when, ironically, one could go much further in life even without a high school diploma. My father and uncles, like many men of their generation, never completed high school but became middle class suburban homeowners with comfortable pensions after twenty years of service. But it’s a 2014 question and it requires a 2014 answer.

When we behold, in intellectual honesty, not 1950’s nostalgia, the many people with advanced university degrees with even fewer prospects for gainful employment than high school dropouts (people who won’t even be considered by the manager of Pathmark or Home Depot because they’re “overqualified”), it needs to be asked. I know too many people with university degrees in fields like geology, biology, engineering, and computer science who are unemployed or working minimum wage jobs and/or on public assistance.

I think a college degree is of some value if the parents of today’s elementary school students have a business plan that includes some of the following elements:

1. By the time the student is age 12, there ought to be a general idea what field he/she will enter as an adult. The old “finding oneself” in high school or college is a ticket to a career moping the floor for minimum wage.

2. Research must be constantly undertaken and revised on shifting employment trends in this field or closely related fields throughout the student’s middle school and high school years and the aforesaid business plan modified accordingly. The class of 2014, after all, was in kindergarten in 2002 and look how much the world has changed in those dozen years.

3. Students must concentrate on technological skills and trends because the astonishing pace of technology is ultimately what’s generating the economic transformations whereupon the student will find himself/herself as an adult.

4. Because the student will be entering a global economy, much time should be devoted to global studies, current events, and the foreign languages likely to predominate in said economy (such as English and Chinese). Too, the student must be impressed with the understanding that he/she will have to go wherever gainful  employment opportunities present themselves. Don’t assume your Second Grader will be living in the U.S. or even be an American citizen when he/she is thirty.

5. Parents need to own a calendar and look at it constantly - especially the year. There are too many parents who still think, metaphorically at any rate, that it’s the world of 1958 or 1979, or 1996, or whenever they graduated from high school themselves. It’s later than they think.

Paul Manton