Column: College about more than economicsBy Ryan Broege • February 4, 2010 • Category: Uncategorized
If there’s one unforgivable sin among today’s graduating high school students, it is a refusal to at least consider going to college. A college degree is advertised as a ticket to a higher lifelong income, a more fulfilling career and a more enjoyable retirement. And the advertising has been a success; according to the Digest of Education Statistics, 67 percent of high school graduates were enrolled in college in the fall of 2007, marking a dramatic increase since the percentage of high school graduates attending college fell below 50 percent in 1980.
It does not seem a stretch to suggest that skipping college has taken on an implicit social stigma similar to one typically attached to smoking; “You do know that is bad for you, right?” But unlike cigarettes, there are some who insist the verdict is still out on college. Last weekend, the McClatchy Tribune ran a story that ran in newspapers throughout the country that documented the tribulations of two recent college graduates. One young woman, with a degree in advertising and $20,000 in debt from the University of Missouri, was working at Sonic; one man, $40,000 in the red after earning a master’s degree in English from the University of Northern Iowa, was working as an assistant manager at a grocery store.
Additionally, last week I was assigned to read a provocative piece entitled “College is a waste of time and money,” for one of my courses. Although the piece was penned in 1975, the argument is still echoed today. The author, Caroline Bird, claims that the benefits of college are greatly oversold and too many students eagerly buy in. Bird insists that college is right for a select few, but that it is not the right place for most young people. The author also argues that students enroll in college for a litany of reasons other than education, whether it is the promise of a taxpayer-subsidized life, an acquiescence to parental wishes or because the life of a college student is simply a nice existence.
Although pursuing a degree in a more economically applicable field such as engineering or accounting is defendable, my pursuit of an English degree is commonly thought of as a total waste of time, money and effort. Even after five years in school as an English major, I have yet to arrive at a witty, effective way to deflect the ubiquitous inquiry, “English? What are you going to do with that?”
Since I cannot deflect it, I sometimes elect to respond honestly. I explain that I cannot really be sure. I can, however, say with confidence that my degree will be worth the cost. I am not denying Bird’s allegations; college is a nice place to be, and my parents did strongly recommend college. But if you are fortunate enough to stumble upon an area of study that does not bore you to tears every waking minute that you spend with the subject matter, the financial costs somehow become justifiable. It seems to me that unless your chosen major elicits at least a moderate level of interest, you run the risk of becoming a statistic cited by Bird and others who question the intrinsic value of a higher education.