Entries Tagged as 'College Degree'

Can Students Focus on Self-Development?

July 1st, 2011 at 3:52 pm 2 Comments

This is the third part in a FrumForum series on the value of college written by FrumForum’s summer interns.

I spent my first year of college with no unique desires to learn – but simply with the goal of getting a degree and eventually a job. I was a part of the many who flock to college and routinely proceed through the requirements because it is expected – and because a degree was thought to be a first-class ticket in the “real world”. But as I approach my senior year, I’ve come to realize how little a degree will do for me.

This formerly golden document has decreased in value as it became more common. A bachelor’s degree seems to have the same value that a high school degree had 100 years ago – but it costs $200,000 more.

The past few years led me to a realization: college is not about grades or degrees – it’s about self-development. Unfortunately, few people strive towards that anymore.

Those with a will and passion to embrace their textbooks and study what they are given will receive a meaningful degree, while those who spend their undergraduate years at frat parties will leave four years later with empty pockets and a mountain of debt.

My philosophy professor advised his students to use college as a rare opportunity to “think about the great questions of life” – using resources that will only be available during that short four-year period.

I eventually acquired the desire to learn as much as possible – and actually enjoy soaking up every bit of information that comes my way. At first, I thought it would increase my value after graduation – but now, I’ve come to enjoy it, and would often much rather spend my time reading an interesting book than mindlessly attending a social event. Perhaps my degree will hold more weight when I walk off that stage next May.

College rankings don’t matter. People are given information, and whether they choose to receive it is a choice defined by character. It’s ones character that will pave the path of the future – not one’s degree.

What a degree will do is open doors to opportunities – which someone who wasted their four years will not be able to step through.

An Ivy League school may brand students with a name that will give them more chances – but it won’t make its students any more skilled.

So is college worth spending $200,000 on? Yes – but only for those who embrace the tools they are given. It can be an investment – but only for those who know how to invest.

Not All Students Are Equally Studious

July 1st, 2011 at 1:19 pm 5 Comments

This is the third part in a FrumForum series on the value of college written by FrumForum’s summer interns.

I am currently a student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service (SFS), a vocational-leaning program embedded in a liberal-arts dominated institution.  The arguments made by Daniel Smith the New York Magazine do not suggest to me that college lacks value.  They suggest, and my experience confirms, that students do not derive the benefits of college just by paying and showing up.  Like most things in life, they must be earned.

SFS is notorious at Georgetown for being the most difficult of the undergraduate schools.  To graduate, SFS students must demonstrate proficiency in a second language, take a wide range of economics and political science courses, and are strongly encouraged to study abroad and find internships within the city.  Many go on to work for the State Department or for other government departments or NGOs.  That does sound like it’s worth the price tag and the time.

But, rather predictably, the fact is that the graduates who have the most success tend to be those who did the most work and took advantage of the opportunities they were given.  For those who didn’t, it’s a mixed bag.  I have a number of friends who simply go through the motions of college.  Like most college students, they attend class, do the majority of their homework and manage to pull decent grades.  But there are also a great many students for whom college is more than a four-year slog toward a degree.  For them, college is a chance to pursue a wide range of interests without the pressure of paying a utility bill.  Young adults who forgo college to work may be free of the accompanying mounds of student debt, but they do not enjoy the freedom to fail without major consequences.  I am working this summer as an intern at an internet blog, but I doubt I will ever be a journalist.  I do think I will be able to acquire some important skills and gain valuable “real-world” experience.  But I can only spend my summer this way because I know I will be safely back on the Hilltop at Georgetown in September, whether I write like H.L. Menken or Charles Barkley.

This is why it is so frustrating for me to read articles like Smith’s.  It is not that college lacks value.  It is that the value of college is completely dependent on the student. By being enrolled at an American university, students have the opportunity to essentially choose the level of prosperity for which they are willing to strive.  And the path to prosperity is hard but by no means secret.  Every student knows that an engineering major is more rigorous than degree in history, but we are also well aware that it projects far greater lifetime income.  Now, I am not accusing history majors of indolence.  My point is that higher education offers a range of outcomes, which, unlike the outcomes of primary education, are almost completely dependent on the student.

Unfortunately, all graduates are counted equally in statistics, regardless of how many internships they applied for or how often they went to office hours.

When taken as a uniform bloc, college students may understandably give writers like Smith the impression that they are wasting time and money.  This is akin to saying that a gym membership is “not worth it” because only some percentage of all buyers experience results.  Clearly the numbers would be different among those who showed up and worked. The American university is still a vehicle to the middle class and beyond. But like any vehicle, it won’t drive itself.

College is About Skills, Not Wages

July 1st, 2011 at 10:55 am 9 Comments

This is the second part in a FrumForum series on the value of college written by FrumForum’s summer interns.

Once, a great professor of mine, said, “College has nothing to do with what you learn here.  You’ll forget most of it before you graduate anyways.  You’re here to be inculcated with the norms and expectations of a professional lifestyle.”  If anything, that is where I see my college worth.

College has nothing to do with academic retention.  Well, it does — but not to the extent that it is popularly emphasized.  In college, young people (who are pampered throughout high school) finally get to see the real world.  For many, it is the first time we are treated as adults and given the opportunity to excel — or fail.  In a world that plays by these same rules, this is a fundamental experience.  It shows us how to get a job.

Critics of the ever-popular college scene claim not everyone needs college — not everyone benefits very much from earning the degree.  In fact, Daniel B. Smith’s article, “The University Has No Clothes” in New York magazine depicts college degrees as dwindling in significance (and this is seen in scores of other media outlets); they even assert that college debt is too cumbersome for a growing number of graduates.

They are looking in all the wrong places when they refer to the benefits of college.  Graduates leave their campuses with hardly any concrete evidence of their growth and development.  The skill-set that allows us to navigate the real world and the careers within it are much more important than a bump up on the wage bracket.  It doesn’t really matter if I have a lot of student debt because I can manage that now that I know what proficiency really boils down to. We hear of plenty of people going into debt for many years after college, but it is rare to hear of a case where someone is bankrupt due their investment in an education.

And while I discount people like Smith’s take on college, I don’t fully agree with collegiate  defenses such as Kevin Carey’s article posted a few weeks ago in The New Republic.  To me, neither side understands it, so the truth lies in the middle.

Obviously I lean more toward the academic persuasion.  As Carey points out, some people graduating college may face obstacles at first (bartending, waiting tables, etc.), but they also typically end up in their intended professions — like Sally Cameron working in an international development consulting firm.  And he even makes a better point: “There are a lot more law firm partners out there who used to be bartenders than bartenders who used to be law firm partners.”  People with degrees tend to achieve their goals, it just may not be on a convenient timetable.

A close friend of mine from high school graduated two years ago with a Spanish degree and has been searching this entire time for a job — anywhere in the country.  It seemed like every time I spoke to him he was finishing a cover letter or job application.  Just a month ago he finally got an offer as a sales representative in Boston, and he is finally doing something he enjoys with his degree.  While I know there are plenty of others who haven’t been as fortunate, his situation shows that with the drive and initiative, a college degree will get you where you want to go.