College Is Still a Waste of Time and Money


HuffPo recently posted “College Degree Is Cheaper Than The Cost Of Dropping Out,” an item imploring young folk to stay in school.

Citing the same stats that always get cited with this kind of thing, HuffPo argues that: “A bachelor’s degree is worth $2.8 million over one’s lifetime[!]” which is “far more than the $220,000 price tag of a Harvard degree. College graduates earn 84 percent more over their lifetimes than people without college degrees.”

And: “The average college graduate of the class of 2011 is earning $41,701 per year: 58 percent more than the average median U.S. salary of $26,364.”

Hm. This is all interesting stuff, but that still doesn’t make college worthwhile.

First, there’s the issue of debt — and that can’t just be dismissed with talk of overall lifetime earnings. In the U.S., student lending debt has swelled past $1 trillion. Yeah, this is less than some estimates of dropouts’ impact on the economy (said to hover around $4.75 trillion), but we should probably wonder whether such a debt-dependent financial model is sustainable in the long run. And, fact is that there are still many, many students who graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in debt — with nebulous job prospects.

There’s also the issue of psychic pay. Remember Caroline Bird’s 1975 essay “College Is a Waste of time and Money”? Bird brings up an important idea: a lot of students attend college in the hopes of doing something they enjoy — like social work or education — even though the salaries for these fields might be less than, say, being a highly skilled auto mechanic. What these stats don’t show: whether today’s grads can achieve the psychic payout that would make worthwhile four expensive years of (largely bullshit) coursework.

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