Debate Club

Some Career Pathways Require a Four-Year Degree, Many Don't

By SHARE

Generally speaking, more education is better than less. The lifetime earning gap between those with a college degree and those with only a high school diploma is estimated to be close to a million dollars. Earnings aside, there is powerful evidence that those with more education do better on a variety of other measures that we associate with the opportunity to lead a happier, healthier, more fulfilled life.

[Average Student Debt Reaches All-Time High.]

That said, the question of whether a college degree--especially a four-year college degree--is still "worth it" is not so simple. As with many other things in life, the answer in today's economy is, "it all depends." Here are some facts to consider. First, the unemployment rate of young four-year college graduates today is nearly 10 percent, about the same as the population at large. More seriously, some estimates suggest that the percentage of young college graduates working in jobs that don't really require a college education might be as high as 30 percent. And these numbers mask the fact that nearly half of those who start out in a four-year college do not finish. The point about statistics like these is that in today's economy what you study matters more than how many years you study. Recent data from Florida tell us that 2009 graduates with a technical degree from Florida's community colleges are outearning the average graduate from the state's four-year institutions by over $10,000.

[Today's Young Adults Suffering More Financially than Older Generations.]

These data suggest that young people need much better information and advice about the labor market before making decisions about what kind of post-secondary education or training will be most relevant to their talents and career aspirations. Too many young people go off to college with little or no purpose or information about the relationship between what they might study and what careers will then be open to them. Consequently, they become "academically adrift," in the words of a powerful recent study reporting that 45 percent of students attending a representative sample of four-year colleges show no significant increase in such core academic skills as analytic reasoning and writing between the beginning of freshman year and the end of sophomore year. Given the high costs of college and the average $25,000 debt burden students leave with, students and their families should not mindlessly assume that college will be "worth it." Some career pathways require a four-year degree; many others don't. Schools need to take more responsibility to help students choose wisely.

Robert B. Schwartz

About Robert B. Schwartz Francis Keppel Professor of Practice in Educational Policy and Administration at Harvard University

Tags
employment
colleges
student loans

Other Arguments

#1
152 Pts
With College, Only the Motivated Need Apply

No – With College, Only the Motivated Need Apply

Craig Brandon Author of 'The Five-Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up On Educating Your Child' and 'What You Can Do About It'

#2
112 Pts
Going to College Is a Mistake for Many

No – Going to College Is a Mistake for Many

Richard Vedder Director of Center for College Affordability and Productivity

#3
71 Pts
With College Degree, One Size Does Not Fit All

Yes – With College Degree, One Size Does Not Fit All

Peter Konwerski Senior Associate Vice President and Dean of Students at George Washington University

#4
53 Pts
Government Is Behind the Curve

No – Government Is Behind the Curve

Lindsey Burke Senior Policy Analyst in Domestic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation

#5
50 Pts
College Is a Safe Bet

Yes – College Is a Safe Bet

Julie Margetta Morgan Policy Analyst with the Postsecondary Education Program at the Center for American Progress

#6
41 Pts
You Can Lead Kids to College but You Can't Make Them Learn

No – You Can Lead Kids to College but You Can't Make Them Learn

Naomi Schaefer Riley Author of 'The Faculty Lounges ... And Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Pay For'

#8
8 Pts
College Graduates Earn Higher Pay

Yes – College Graduates Earn Higher Pay

Anthony P. Carnevale Director of Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce

#9
2 Pts
K-12 Education Should Take a Lesson from Colleges

Yes – K-12 Education Should Take a Lesson from Colleges

Tom Carroll President of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future

#10
0 Pts
Economy Puts a Premium on Postsecondary Skills

Yes – Economy Puts a Premium on Postsecondary Skills

Kevin Carey Policy Director of Education Sector

#11
-21 Pts
More, Better Jobs for College Graduates

Yes – More, Better Jobs for College Graduates

Chris Farrell Economics Editor of 'Marketplace Money'

#12
-67 Pts
A Degree Is Well Worth the Time, Cost, and Effort

Yes – A Degree Is Well Worth the Time, Cost, and Effort

Cecilia Elena Rouse Katzman-Ernst Professor in the Economics of Education and Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University

You Might Also Like


See More