Post-Grad Perspectives on The Value of College

Several times here over the years, we have discussed whether or not college is worth it. The perspective from which we looked at the value of a college education has always been pre-college, for the interest of high school students and parents who are wondering about their return on the sometimes unreasonable investment (cost) of higher education.

What I’d like to discuss today, however, are some viewpoints of those who have already graduated from college and entered the “real” word. What are their (and their parents’) views about college’s worth? Before getting into actual quotes from that group, let’s take a moment to review some brief highlights from my past posts about the value of a college degree.

From 2009: “In the preface of their book, Funding a College Education: Finding the Right School for Your Child and the Right Fit for Your Budget, authors Alice Drum and Richard Kneedler say:

‘. . . a college degree does not depreciate.  In fact, the college degree is increasingly the sine qua non of successful American life.  Recent U.S. Census Bureau data confirm that holders of bachelors degrees have lifetime earnings nearly twice those of high school grads, and that holders of graduate and professional degrees do even better.  There are also strong indicators that those who have benefited from higher education feel happier, are more fulfilled, and make greater contributions to our society.’ …

“… The possession of a college degree implies that the holder has endured a rigorous set of requirements and has managed to satisfy them.  Most have “learned how to learn” thanks to a core curriculum that has imparted an appreciation for both the practical and finer things in life.  College graduates are more interesting personalities, because they have more knowledge of life.

Is college really worth it?  Of course it is.”

college diploma

From 2011: “That’s a question [Is College Worth It?] many parents are asking themselves when faced with the likelihood that they will be entering into a much deeper world of sacrifice and debt when the Ivy gates open wide for their son or daughter. I’ve written before here about the rising tsunami of student debt. It’s a fact, not speculation. Beginning one’s working life saddled with a huge, long-term financial burden is not a desirable option. Thus, the title of this post.

The Washington Post‘s Jenna Johnson has called our attention to a new survey by the Pew Research Center that targets this very topic. Johnson notes, ‘It’s an argument that keeps popping up, especially as budget cuts and economic conditions push many students and their families to question whether they are getting what they have paid for (or will pay for in the years after graduation).

‘[S]ince the early 1990s, colleges have been reinventing themselves using a business model, transforming themselves into Diplomas Inc., run by a new breed of college administrator more interested in retaining customers than educating students,’ education reporter Craig Brandon wrote in his recent book, The Five-Year Party.’ …

“The recent economic downturn has generated some prickly fallout, especially in the world of college admissions planning. One of the more interesting (and confusing) areas of debate comes from the “Is college really worth it?” crowd. Of course, we can easily find examples of men and women who have not graduated from college and who have made a considerable mark on the world, both financially and achievement-wise. One of the most notable examples of that is Bill Gates of Microsoft fame. If you’re looking for specific examples and want what could be the world’s most exhaustive list of people who have made it “big” without that college diploma, look no further than The College Dropouts Hall of Fame. The list there is mind-boggling …

“In researching this topic, I found a recent article that raises some excellent points about the college ROI (return on investment) for certain creative types, in light of the skyrocketing college costs of today. Donna Fenn writes in BNet, ‘Last week, Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, announced that his foundation had just chosen its first class of “20 Under 20 Thiel Fellows.”  It’s a group of wiz kids that will receive $100,000 each over two years to pursue their entrepreneurial ventures, all of which are in the science and technology fields. Sadly, only two of the awardees are young women, but that’s another subject for another post. What has the media buzzing is Thiel’s requirement that his fellows either forgo or drop out of college.’ …”


As you can see, there are two very distinct sides to the college-value coin. It appears that the the “It’s definitely worth it!” crowd significantly outnumbers the “You don’t need it to be successful” contingent. Obviously, this debate will continue for years to come. That’s why I found a recent thread on the College Confidential discussion forum so interesting. The title pretty much covers it all: Your kids’ first job out of college–where are they now? Was their college worth it?

It’s a long thread, which reflects the seriousness of the subject. To help those of you who may be pondering your future venture into higher education or questioning the value of your current presence on campus, here are a few selected highlights from the many posters who have responded to this thread …

– I have to remind myself that the college experience is about more than just the grades or how much money you make when you are done. I am paying a LOT for one son, and it’s not going nearly as well “academically” as I expected, which is quite frustrating at times. After he gets his “fancy degree” I won’t be surprised if he decides to go “off the grid” (like become a ski bum or a waiter in an exotic locale or something like that) for awhile. My other son, attending our state flagship, seems to be following more the “standard” formula for success. I am hoping that in X years they will both be healthy and happy.

– … We have very limited finances when it comes to paying for college, but for this child, we paid a small fortune for him to be in a supportive environment with Aspies where adults were present for assistance and guidance. I do regret spending that $$, but my regret is not that we tried, but that money could have been used to establish a small business in one of his areas of obsession which would be rewarding for him. Instead he works as a donation greeter at Goodwill. He needs an employer willing to work around his major issues. ( our son is unlikely to ever be completely independent, something that 6-8 yrs ago we were not really aware of. His inability to cope seems to get more pronounced as he gets older.) …

– The replies on this thread are very heartening to me. With all the ROI talk about college these days, I’ve begun to think I’m a dinosaur for not centering my expectations there. Like others here, our kids’ college educations were freely given with no income or prestige expectations.

D–started at an OOS public, was miserable (though top student), transferred to a very good LAC where she found who she should be. Loved every second of her education, made amazing friends, and lived and breathed ideas. Graduated PBK. Now works as an environmental canvasser–doesn’t even need her degree for this job, but she supports herself (married, her H works in similar job, they own a house), and I am very proud of her.

S–Went to an top University. dropped out senior year (I’ve told the story her ad nauseum so won’t go through it now.) Went back to school after six years, graduated with a respectable GPA, and now works a good entry-level job at a non-profit.

Neither is ever going to make a lot of money. Both are smart, thoughtful people who believe in making the world better. Both learned a tremendous amount in their college experiences.

I don’t regret a cent.

– … 55% of college grads since 2008 are either unemployed or underemployed, while student loans are totaling in the trillions. My family doesn’t need to contribute to those statistics. If my kids just want to study philosophy, I’d tell them to go get a job and support themselves first, then go get that degree at night and pay for it themselves. Sorry folks. H and I are just too practical.

– I don’t think you’ve been around CC that long, because many, many parents have mentioned their liberal arts kids doing all kinds of different jobs that are not at all folding shirts or pouring lattes. There are MANY skills learned in liberal arts, including critical thinking, which can be an asset in all sorts of jobs. And as others have already mentioned, there ARE STEM majors that are actually taught at liberal arts schools …

– My son graduated in December and just landed his first job. Two decisions he made have really paid off; graduating with no debt and going to a school with a co-op program (basically six month long internships.) He is now working for one of the companies he did a co-op with and having no debt allowed him to accept the position.

He was on a full tuition scholarship but we paid room/board. We were grateful to be in a position to provide that assistance to him and, yes, I will always think it was worth it, no matter what happens with his career.


So, which camp are you in? Do you feel that it’s possible to earn back all the debt your student loans have created (with interest, of course) and find rewarding work? Or, do you feel that it’s possible to be both successful and happy in life without a college degree? Perhaps you feel that’s it’s not a completely black-and-white situation, that it’s one of those “it depends” issues.

Let us know what your take on this matter is. Post a comment below. We would love to hear from you.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.

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