This is the first part in a FrumForum series on the value of college written by FrumForum’s summer interns.
Recently, there has been a flurry of articles suggesting that the value of a college education is decreasing. James Altucher, one of the crusaders at the forefront of the anti-college movement, has said that college is nothing more than a “scam.” The arguments against the importance of college say that it is too expensive for what it is: that it is impractical and unhelpful in the real world. These arguments are deeply flawed.
The fact of the matter is that it is a rough economy, and not every single graduate is going to be able to find a job worthy of a college grad. Thus, the horror stories that populate the media about people with Ivy League degrees scrubbing toilets and tending bars.
However, the simple truth is that whether or not it is a tough job market, college grads will come out ahead financially. The data shows that college graduates consistently get more skilled jobs and earn more than non-college grads. Between 1983 and 2008, the inflation-adjusted median wage for people with bachelor’s degrees increased by 34 percent, while the wages for high school dropouts fell by 2 percent. And, by 2007, 48% of people with bachelor’s degrees were in the top three deciles of income.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2007 that people with college degrees earn an average of $937 per week, while people with only a high school diploma earn only $583 per week.
Paying for college is an investment in the student, and the value of a degree is such that it greatly increases the probability that he or she will be able to return on that investment.
However, in a further jab at the college system in America, Altucher said that many argue that college teaches you how to network, write, and think, but “personally, [he] didn’t learn how to do any of those things in college.”
Maybe Altucher wasted his time during his four years at Cornell, but it is unfair of him to apply his own experience to every American college student. As a rising college sophomore, I have already made connections through my school that will help me land summer internships and future employment. As an English major, I am not only learning how to write analytical essays but how to think critically as well. These shifts in the way I approach my learning and my future have a value in and of themselves which should not be underestimated.
But, for the skeptics, higher education is not important simply for the education itself, but also for the economic opportunities it presents. College is not a “scam” as Altucher asserts, because the knowledge gained during those defining four years is not worthy only for the sake of crystallized intelligence, but has real implications for monetary success later in life.