Today’s University Education and its Hefty Price Tag

An exploration into one of the nation’s fastest growing debates.
In the fall of 2015, approximately 20.2 million students enrolled in American University or College Programs.

As I sit at my desk on a Wednesday evening, I reach for my slick Macbook Air and like most nights, I open my school email’s inbox to find class reminders, assignments, and a monstrous collection of college emails. As I stare at my illuminated computer screen, I am immediately interested at the sight of 36 new college emails, but my interest soon turns to concern as I suddenly realize that many of the colleges I have received notification from are completely unfamiliar to me. In the society we live in, college is the ultimate high school stressor. Students are pressured to excel in all possible areas in order to adhere to the stigma surrounding college education and later success. In today’s age, college enrollment has become a sport of sorts as students vigorously compete amongst one another in order to enter the nation’s most elite schools. Looking up from my screen, I began to ponder this stigma surrounding college education and its true value within our culture. With enrollment at an all-time high, what are possible repercussions of a system expanding at this vast of a rate? Is college education worth the hefty price tag that often accompanies it today?

As of 2015, Goldman Sachs calculated that most college graduates will not break even from their bachelor’s degree until the age of 31. By 2050, the corporation projects that the age will reach 37 for the same degree level. Higher education can provide a degree that leads to a high-paying, desired job, but employers are becoming frustrated with the “lack of training and skills” they have noticed in recent graduates entering the modern job market. The lack of skills they have noticed contributes largely to a recent debate over the level of preparedness universities offer graduates. As a student currently in the college search process, I find this debate compelling myself. Our nation’s education system is fundamental to the stimulation of our national economy and maintaining our role as a top global leading nation. University education should provide advancement for us to initiate new global problem-solving and innovation. After researching the issue, it became apparent that top-ranked universities offer career opportunity for their graduates, but the latest research shows that low tier universities are not worth the investment in the long run as they provide little opportunity.

Currently around 20.2 million Americans are enrolled in either two-year or four-year university program. College enrollment has reached an all time high, as many describe a “higher education revolution” is underway (Long). The benefits of university level education are evident for many as they build lifelong relationships, explore their interests, and grow on a personal basis. These experiences are critical milestones on the path to adulthood, but are in actuality too idealistic. A young adult can build fundamental relationships and explore interests that remain influential in their lives, but what happens when one leaves their university after four years of hard work, only to find no well-paying jobs available for them? Most low tier universities are able to promise a diploma to their graduates but little beyond that. Without some level of stability after enrollment in such an institution, the options of these low-tier attendees are limited. Additional frustration has been building as even the wage gap is called into question. It has been popular belief that four-year degree holders make significantly more than high school degree holders, but over the years the wage gap has been narrowing. Those who select majors in fields such as the arts, education, and psychology are experiencing difficulty finding high paying jobs as careers in healthcare, science, and technology are booming. In today’s modern job market, salaries are increasing for jobs that require extensive or professional preparation, while others may be seen better off with a standard training program.

Unemployment remains the highest for recent college graduates at approximately nine percent.

Most jobs in today’s age require certain skills that most standard degree programs do not prioritize or in actuality provide their graduates. As a result, employees require instruction and direction in addition to the degrees they have already received. One trillion dollars worth of student debt may not be worth it when employers are looking to make a shift in their future hiring and instructional practices. Over the course of the next few years, company programs and some of the latest online mediums are going to be utilized more frequently by employers. lessons, owned by LinkedIn, and “MOOCs” or major open online courses are soon going to be prefered by many employers (Long). Additionally, more profitable companies such as Facebook and Google are expected to create their own “degree programs” to tailor employee education to their company’s specifications. My generation may not exactly encounter all of these changes that are going to be implemented but it is critical to consider these options in the next decade. University level education will only become more expensive over time. Company options will be both time and cost efficient as individuals will be prepared to fulfill the responsibilities of a shifting job market. Capable and skilled employees will not only help their companies and the national economy prosper, but will be guaranteed job security.

According to 30,000 alumni polled by Gallup-Purdue Index, just 38 percent of students who have graduated college in the past decade strongly agree that their higher education was worth its total cost. With little over one out of every three people satisfied with their investment, the problem has reached a noticeable level. Unemployment remains high for recent college graduates at around nine percent, and of those employed, a majority are underemployed based on their degree qualifications, thus assuming non-related jobs (Selingo). This provides large concern as it points out that there is very minimal job security and opportunity provided to most graduates.

The stigma surrounding the need for a college degree in order to enter the job market has had visibly negative consequences on the nation’s younger generations. Society pressures the majority to enter the university pathway, when in reality the pathway is continuously losing value. That is not to say that education is not useful but a large percentage of today’s universities have become for the most part, money making industries instead of valuable educational institutions. What the latest research suggests is that low tier university education is not worth its price as employment opportunity has been minimal and the amount of student debt has been growing at exponential rates. This finding does not dismiss the importance of education but rather points out the obvious flaws of a system that could potentially fail entirely. Overpopularization and economic motive over genuine cause have decreased the benefit of something that should be helping all of our society. Forcing the additional pressure of more education on today’s students does not necessarily encourage them to succeed. True success is attainable only when intentions are valid and in the best interest of those directly impacted.

Education pathways should be determined critically based on field and major. A large portion of today’s jobs would be better off with training programs orchestrated for those specific jobs. Our society must become more acceptive of change and alternative methods. The world is continuously changing on a global scale. In the next few decades, our jobs will be entirely different to accommodate those changes. University education is for many a monumental investment, and with any major investment come risks, but before investing, the benefits must outweigh any evident disadvantages.