Are College Degrees Worth The Money? [poll]

by Sharlyn Lauby on February 19, 2013

One of our regular readers on HR Bartender has asked a question and I’d like to get your feedback:

My son has been accepted to an Ivy League college and nominated to be a Dean’s Scholar, a very honorable distinction which gives him the opportunity to meet very influential people and begin research projects with seniors during his freshman year, etc.  The hesitation of course, is the cost of tuition.  He received a grant for slightly over half (tuition is $60,000).  I have to laugh because it is ludicrous to think that our household just has $29,000 each year to hand over to a college. 

Mark Cuban wrote a thought-provoking piece over on LinkedIn titled “Is Your College Going Out of Business?” You can check it out here. I’ve always felt that the education – business partnership needed to be stronger, especially as we start to see more conversation about the skills gap. Prospective students today have lots of options. They want to know that what they’re spending (or parents are spending) on college will help them in their future careers.

While it might be difficult to specifically answer the reader’s question about the cost of attending an Ivy League college, it is possible for us to share if we thought the cost of college was valuable. Regardless of the school you attended, was the experience and the jobs you were able to land after graduation worth the debt? I’m sure there are graduates who will say vehemently, “Yes, worth every penny!” and others who will feel differently. So I put together a one question poll on the subject.

I hope you’ll take a moment and share your experience and thoughts about the college experience price tag. Thanks in advance for your participation – I’ll do a wrap up of the results in a future post.

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Lynn February 19, 2013 at 8:48 am

My company is now requiring degrees for higher level technical positions and management. This wasn’t always the case, and I know many coworkers, who are very good at their jobs, going back to school in their 30′s, 40′s and 50′s, just starting from scratch with a few finishing up after dropping out to raise their families. My company has tuition reimbursement, which helps tremendously.

I’m glad that my parents pushed me so hard to go to college and stick with it until I got my degree. I can’t imagine at this point in my career at this particular company (17 years with steady upward progress) going back to school.

I could pontificate further about the differences and similarities in skills in certain jobs among the degreed and non-degreeded coworkers but I don’t think that’s what you’re looking for n

Carolyn Sokol February 19, 2013 at 9:23 am

As the reader who submitted this question last year, I’d like to update our story. The university in question, Cornell, has been extremely supportive and helpful in our appeal for assistance. After explaining our situation in more detail they added additional funds making it possible for my son to attend. It has been a wonderful experience for him, finally being challenged academically and finding peers with the same love for learning and motivation that he has. Our income has increased some, so I don’t know what aid to expect in 2013 and beyond but after such a powerful & thought provoking 1st year, I believe it will be worth every penny and then some.

Brendan Hickey February 19, 2013 at 9:25 am

I can’t speak to the value of the Ivy League – I went to two little Catholic colleges for undergrad and two small religious schools for grad studies – but I see value in higher education in two ways that other commenters may not mention.

One is that a degree is shorthand for your ability to plan, organize, commit, achieve, communicate, and think – the stuff that employers really need and want. Few employers want to give you an aptitude test but they can figure that you already passed those tests in school.

The other is that those skills that I mentioned above are some of what constitutes executive functioning, which will be the next clinical psychology term to become so pop psych as to lose its meaning.

Executive functioning is done by the prefrontal cortex of the brain and we know that region of the brain is not fully developed until your early 20′s. Think of the difference between a freshman and a senior, and that maturity is based in neurology.

So, to me, the time in undergrad, and the demands that come with it, developing executive functioning, are good preparation for life, in addition to the great stuff that you paid to have the potential to learn.

Carolyn Sokol February 19, 2013 at 10:41 am

Brendan, you said it perfectly!
Public high school these days does not prepare you or equip you with enough executive functioning skills to make you successful in the workplace. Young adults also desperately need this time to explore options and find what they enjoy & are good at.

Tanya February 19, 2013 at 1:19 pm

I guess I am in the minority! I only voted no because my husband has a very successful career and makes a good chunk of money and he didn’t even graduate high school. (he got his GED)

Sharlyn Lauby February 19, 2013 at 7:17 pm

@Lynn – I agree. It can be hard to go back to school. First thing that comes to mind is learning how to study all over again.

@Carolyn – Thanks for the update!

@Brendan – Agreed. If I took one thing away from college it was life preparation. Thanks for sharing.

@Tanya – I know many people who haven’t attended college and make an excellent living. Thanks for sharing!

Rachel February 20, 2013 at 6:54 pm

While I agree that not every person needs a post-secondary education to succeed, I do believe that college/university really does prepare someone for life. It allows teenagers to grow and learn what life is about – from learning to plan and take responsibility to knowing how hard life can be.
Rachel recently posted..Uncovering the Gaps to Outstanding Performance – Sales Process Management

Rose Cascarret February 21, 2013 at 7:56 pm

College degree is very important to everyone in order to have a better job and career. I also agree that post-secondary education is not necessary but an optional to us.
Rose Cascarret recently posted..Embroidered Patches Vs Direct Embroidery for Custom Uniforms

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