Weighing Student Debt With The Current Job Market: Is A College Degree Still Worth It?

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A college education was traditionally not about gaining skills or acquiring credentials to seek employment in the labor markets. Instead, once upon a time a college education was about broadening a person’s knowledge and making them a better well-rounded individual. Trade schools and eventually community colleges were where the bulk of those seeking semi-professional jobs attended in order to acquire the necessary skills — the accountants, nurses, pharmacists, as well as the blue collar professions such as plumbers and carpenters. Only after World War II did this system begin to change into what we see today. While it worked excellently for decades due to increasing labor demands, today we’re seeing a different result.
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The bulk of students who graduated this year with a four year degree have yet to find work in their chosen areas of study. For most of them who do find a job, the starting salaries will be in the range between $20,000 – 30,000 for the first year. To make matters even worse, a large percentage of recent graduates are working jobs that just a few years ago were filled by high school graduates. Essentially, they have unskilled jobs despite obtaining an advanced education. While this is bad enough, coupled with the average student debt of nearly $30,000, it becomes an almost insurmountable task for them to pay off their debts while building a life for themselves and their families.

That is why many people from educators to students are now reconsidering the belief that everyone should seek a college education after high school. Simply put, rationalizing such an investment given the economic prospects that have existed for nearly a decade now is getting much more difficult with each passing year. The notion that college graduates will earn more money over their lifetime compared to blue collar workers is also being questioned. In fact, in many ways blue collar professionals such as plumbers have the kind of job security that the majority of college graduates can only dream of obtaining. Not only are the bulk of blue collar jobs not subject to outsourcing, but they’re also more likely to be unionized and offer other labor protections.

Still, if a student intends to pursue a profession such as medicine or law, then a college degree is an absolute necessity. Depending on the quality of the professional school the student attends after college graduation, the investment in time and money can definitely be worth the effort. What is being discovered, however, is that while there are always a small number of degrees in demand, the average college education today doesn’t guarantee a higher paying job or a quality standard of living like it once did so many years ago. In fact, given the debt loads and the lack of economic opportunity, pursuing a college education may be a financial detriment to the student throughout his or her life.

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