Questioning the Value of a College Education

Sep 13

In this week’s Newsweek cover story, “The College Bubble,” the author introduces an interesting question, “is college a lousy investment?”

Immediately this headline caught my attention. In today’s society, how can anyone question the value of education? Just last week at the Democratic National Convention, President Obama asserted that, “Education was the gateway to opportunity for me.” Is this even debatable?

I grew up on the Taos Pueblo Indian reservation in northern New Mexico. I received my primary education at a reservation school. My secondary education was spent at the only public high school in Taos, New Mexico. I was fortunate enough to attend Colorado College, a small liberal arts school in Colorado Springs, and this experience gave me opportunities well beyond my expectations.

In the cover story, the author’s focal point is that, “For an increasing number of kids, the extra time and money spent pursuing a college diploma will leave them worse off than they were before they set foot on campus.”

Source: Flickr - Tax Credits

The author frames her argument by citing the amount of debt students undertake to pay for higher education. Upon graduation, recent graduate’s incomes are not comparable to the amount of debt that they incurred. As a result, some experts suggest that college is a worthy investment for the average student but the price of college ravages the return.

Furthermore, the author cites work from a recent study, “that at least a third of students gain no measurable skills during their four years in college. For the remainder who do, the gains are usually minimal.”

So people don’t learn anything in college? And for those that do, the gains are minimal? Really?! From my personal perspective, I can’t quantify the amount of knowledge I gained in my four years at Colorado College, but I do know that my writing, critical thinking, and public speaking drastically improved. Not to mention the knowledge I gained from my technical classes. While you can’t measure the sense of accomplishment and confidence gained throughout college, the value is significant.

In addition, I feel that her argument is even more flawed because it is based solely on the immediate prospects for graduating students. She has neglected to reflect on the benefits of higher education later on in life. What is the average potential earnings growth for a student with a college education compared to a high school only educated peer in 5 years, 10 years, and 15 years in the future? Where is the data on life time earning potential for college graduates?

With that said, I feel the author raises a relevant point in the fact that students and their families are not prepared for the commitments that higher education requires. This is a behavior that must change. As social marketers, we are in the business of influencing change. We need to develop communications programs that bring awareness to the fact that higher education costs are rising, and there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight. Consequently, parents and their children need to be made aware of financing options that can help them prepare for this future investment. While earning the degree is essential, I also believe that we need to emphasize the importance of learning. Students need to take full advantage of this valuable opportunity and realize that they attend institutions of higher education to better themselves by investing the time to study. Finally, and perhaps hardest of all, young students need to learn patience. Success and financial freedom are not guaranteed immediately following graduation. Yet, getting a degree provides access to numerous possibilities later in life.

“Is college education a lousy investment?” You tell me. I’ve already experienced the benefits of continuing my education and I know/believe I am just scratching the surface.

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 13th, 2012 at 1:56 pm and is filed under Behavior Change. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “Questioning the Value of a College Education”

  1. Byron says:


    The grass is always greener when you’re on it. 🙂

    Check out my post on whether you’ve forgiven your alma mater.