Everyone “knows” that college graduates make more money than people without a college degree. So, if you take everyone with a college degree and put them in bucket A, and put everyone without a college degree in bucket B, the average wage of bucket A will be higher than B.
So, does that mean you should get a college degree in order to get higher income? Does getting a college degree actually help you earn more money? No. It doesn’t.
The real thing that will help you earn more is acquiring valuable skills. Many people acquire skills in college, so it isn’t surprising that college graduates on average make more money. However, if you put everyone who has valuable skills in one bucket and everyone without valuable skills in another, you’d find the skilled bucket has a much higher average income than the non-skilled. Further, you’d find that there were some people with great skills and no degree and others with a degree and no skills.
My point is that focusing on getting a degree is pretty pointless. I was looking through some old papers with my grandmother a few years ago. She showed me my great grandfather’s diploma from seminary and his license to practice law in Kansas. I asked about the diploma from his law degree and found that he didn’t have one. He was in law school and someone dared him to take the bar exam. He took the dare and passed. He had already acquired the skills necessary to become a lawyer and it was those skills that were important–not how long he spent in college. Interestingly enough, he wouldn’t have been able to do that today. Kansas is one of the states that won’t let you even take the bar exam if you don’t have a law degree. I think this is a problem. We’ve made the focus on getting a degree instead of on acquiring skills.
Our educational institutions have a vital part to play in educating. However, I think it is detrimental to focus so much on whether or not someone gets a degree because it makes the degree what is important instead of the skill set.
Right now our colleges are full of kids who are there to get a degree–not necessarily skills. They are focusing on the wrong thing and it is an extreme source of frustration for teachers. How would you like to deal with students all day where a good percentage of them are just trying to do the minimum possible to get a piece of paper that says they graduated? I wouldn’t like it and I know at least a few teachers who are looking at different careers because they only see things getting worse and worse.
According to the government statistics, the percentage of students graduating with an engineering degree peaked in the mid-80’s and has been on a decline until a recent slight uptick. In fact, the percentage of students graduating in engineering in 2014-2015 is only 65% of what it was in 1985-1986–and that represents an improvement from prior years. Science is facing the same thing with an overall decline from the early 70’s but a very slight uptick in recent years. There has been a steady increase in “other fields” which includes things like journalism, law, communication, architecture, etc.
I’m not trying to say that journalism isn’t worth studying, but when it comes to making a living, the skills you acquire studying journalism for four years are not in high enough demand to pay well. On the other hand, I regularly talk to people who say they can’t find good software engineers and they are willing to hire smart people regardless of whether or not they have a degree.
not much value. Not everyone is able to be a computer programmer. Most of the people getting into programming dont have the math background.
Mark Shead says
But I bet many of them could have it if they focused on developing math skills.
Interesting post. There are so many things failing with our current system. Too many people with degrees are in student loan debt up to their eyeballs, while having low paying jobs that guarantee they’ll never pay them off. When I was in college I remember thinking how surreal it was that so many people enrolled simply because they were “supposed to.” These were the same people that didn’t have any idea what major to pick until their junior year (when they were forced to). Not sure if it’s a problem with higher education, or society in general, where it’s just a custom to go straight into college after high school. Many 18 year olds simply aren’t ready to settle down and take life seriously at this point.
I agree with with the points you made here. I went to college to learn “user experience design.” However, about 90% of what I learned was on my own time, purely out of self-interest. The real (and only) value I received was the industry connections my college had. Other than that, I could have forgone college altogether and saved myself some money.
Robert Quinton says
This is very true. College should be about acquiring important interpersonal skills and not just good education marks. Most employers look for people with personal skills, because absolutely any average person can simply acquire a degree.
Not sure I completely agree.
Not everyone is entrepreneurial like Steve Jobs and Richard Branson, or self-motivated like NBA players to pick up skillsets outside of a school/college environment.
In my view, if you can afford it, college is the safer option for most people.. I wrote a post from a personal experience: https://rebootsocial.com/student-loan-is-bigger/
And yet I believe that when choosing a major, one should be guided by the demand for the future profession. And income is one of the parameters for measuring the demand. Let it is not necessary to focus specifically on money, but the overall skills and opportunities that you get: https://www.reddit.com/r/Infographics/comments/iq59ty/top_30_majors_skills_job_opportunities_salary/ And it is always worth choosing from those specialties that you at least like. For example, lawyers are more in demand than sociologists (my specialty), but I just do not like law and everything associated with it, and I do not care that my income will be much lower.
Mark Gallagher says
The thesis of this article is true: skill is worth more than diplomas. For those of us who have children, the challenge is figuring out how to guide them to a career where their talents can blossom. Please advise.