Recent graduates face a dismal job market, however, the fastest growing job sectors don’t require a college degree. Many young people might be asking themselves:
Was it worth it?
For decades, economists have populated many a journal article on the effects of a college degree on wages. Countless studies have shown that an increased level of education has a positive effect on earnings. The big question is why? Is a college degree just a signal to employers that shows a person is willing to work hard in any context? You might not need to quote Nietzsche while making a spreadsheet, but hopefully you approach the project with the same attention to detail you did for a philosophy paper at University. Another argument claims that education has an important effect on productivity. With the additional education you receive, you learn skills that make you a more valuable employee. This is especially true for more technical fields such as engineering or molecular biology.
The verdict is still out on how and to what extent a college degree is just a signal for employers or if a diploma actually improves the quality and quantity of a person’s work, but what if a college degree is no longer useful at all?
Following the economic crisis, many graduates might ask themselves this question when they see the most recent US Bureau of Labor Statistics projection that 7 out of 10 employment sectors that will see the largest gain over the next decade won’t require much more than some on-the-job training. The OECD’s recent reviews on vocational education and training identify specific occupational skills needed in OECD countries such as healthcare, jobs in technology and traditional trades such as electricians and plumbers. Vocational education – the kind that isn’t provided by a Harvard or a Cambridge - has a big part to play in supplying these skills.
Most people (or most college graduates) would argue that much of the value of a college degree isn’t what you learn in class, but the people you meet and the experiences you gain along the way: Time to explore career possibilities. Lifelong friends and networks. Inspiration from a professor. The ability to eat pasta 6 days in a row.
Cheap living standards aside, these experiences help us gain the social and emotional skills that are becoming increasingly important in a globalized world. But are these skills worth the mountains of debt some students are faced with upon graduation?
Let us know your thoughts: Was your college degree worthwhile?
Read more about the OECD’s work in vocational education.