What can a college degree do for you?


When fellow tweeter Ken Horst "the Jobs Guy" posted a link about the value of a college degree, it drew my attention. Many, MANY moons ago, I felt degrees were unnecessary. The family in which I grew up did not advocate college. I was told there was no money for it, and that I needed to "learn a trade."

Believing "no college" to be my destiny (oh, the power of a parent's words), I did not go back to college until my mid-30's! But after I did, I couldn't get enough. After getting a bachelor's degree I earned a master's, and now I'm in processes of getting a doctorate. And each step of the way I've seen a greater value in getting an education.

To those who might question the value of a college degree, please let me encourage you to "go for it." There's enough financial aid out there to make it happen, and plenty of people on college campuses who will help you make it through. The one responsibility that is yours alone is the mustering up the drive to make it happen.

If you don't think it's worth it, allow me to cite a few figures. In 2002, Jennifer Day and Eric Newburger did some research to find out the typical lifetime earnings of people with different levels of education. They discovered the following:

People with high school diplomas earned (on average) 1.2 million over the course of their life.

People with associate (2-yr) degrees earned an average of 1.6 million.

People w bachelor (4-yr) degrees earned an average of 2.1 million.

That's almost 2x as much in lifetime earnings for people holding 4-yr degrees over those with a high school diploma!

Okay, so what if you're concerned about the costs? According to collegeboard.com, in the 2008-2009 school year, the majority of 4-yr degree college students paid less than $9,000 per year in tuition and fees. That and a few less nights watching TV while you're in school studying.

Is it worth it? Do the math. Between student loans and grants, you invest $36,000, and you get back almost $900,000 in return. That return alone should be enough to make some people say "count me in."

But even if the money doesn't trip your trigger, a college degree gives you much more than earnings. I know for myself I made great friendships with people who hold similar interests, plus I learned to appreciate different aspects of society in new ways.

Did I agree with all my professors? Heck no, but the interactions forced me to think differently. I then understood my own perspectives MUCH better – which enabled me to talk more intelligently about what's going on around us.

Overall, my time in college gave me a bigger picture of the world and my place in it. It's hard to put a price on those insights.

But what about . . .
Granted, some people don't want a degree. For example, some entrepreneurs don't see the value in them. One software guru I know dropped out of college when it became clear to him that he knew more than his professors, and that he also had no desire to work for anyone else. He was already earning a good living, running his own business and staying on top of his chosen profession.

Of course, even if you're not an entrepreneur, it's not necessary to have a college degree, but I want to emphasize that the benefits of having one are many. For example, I know at least one front-line employee that would have eliminated a lot of stress in his life had he earned one.

George (not his real name) has worked in the oil fields all his life. He was the last person hired by his company prior to them mandating that all their field workers have college degrees.

Over the years, people have retired or moved on, and George is now the only employee at his company without a degree – which weighs heavy on his mind whenever he hears rumors of layoffs.

Does George know his stuff? You bet. Is he respected among his co-workers? Of course. But that doesn't stop the gnawing feeling in his gut every time the word "layoff" is even whispered. George tells me he wonders whether his lack-of-a-degree will be a factor when his company is deciding who stays and who goes.

What would it do for you?
The real question is "what would a college degree do for you?" Ultimately, you have to decide, but personally, I give it my highest recommendation. It doesn't matter how old you are (I was 35 when I went back to school), if you've not yet earned a degree, I eagerly join Ken Horst and others saying there's a lot of value in doing so. If you still have doubts, contact me and I'll do my best to talk you into it!

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.

Older Comments

While I respect learning, I'm becoming less of an advocate of degree programs. I respect the data, but believe the data does not prove the case. I was given this same argument in High School, and it does not hold water.

Education should be sold on its direct merits, not the fear of being left behind or paid less in years to come. After all, when salespeople would ask me, “What does the average salesperson earn here?” My answer is, “Do you plan to be average?” This is not as flippant as it may seem. Yes, the average compensation in a straight commission sales job is quite low based on average pay. However, the opportunity is tied to competency and some people make terrific money why they do the job well. The business world is filled with exceptions to your data, and I'd rather student make their choice or pursuing education for it's learning sake, not the fear of missing out. Do we really have to cite the successful people without degrees? This could become an over-emotional, useless fight.

Why not let education stand on its own two feet based on its true value? Let's strip away all the 'hidden' costs (tax money, etc.) and expose its true cost. Let's let the customer decide to pay for it, or not.

I find these arguments in this article a bit simplistic. What does excite me is your enthusiasm for your experience and you inviting others to have a similar experience should it resonate with them. Educators would do well to take a tip from you and sell their service in the same way you do rather than trying to scare people into it.

Dave Mather Toronto

Dave - Wow, it looks like you and I could sit down and have a great give and take on this. I’m curious to hear more about your perspective on “letting the customer pay for it, or not.” (Feel free to email me.)

Also, thanks for noticing my enthusiasm for education. However, perhaps like you, I’m wary these days when someone says they have a degree. I’m still about “show me your worth.” The reason: Grade inflation. Too many professors have not learned how to teach. To stand in front of students at most colleges and universities, an instructor needs a Ph.D. in his/her field of study. Whip-de-do! How many professors learn how to convey their knowledge to people with various learning styles? A very small percentage! But when students get C's and D's the professor looks like a bad instructor, so they let things slide and inflate students' grades.

Case in point: I recall seeing students in my master’s program missing more than 50 percent of the classes and turning in horrible work, only to receive “A’s” at the end of the semester.

I also tire of hearing professors say “this is college now ' students should be able to learn on their own.” Although I believe students should take initiative to learn, the above statement is often just an excuse for laziness on the part of professors.

Universities should be places of learning. But the purpose of my article, although ‘simplistic’ as you say, is to encourage people without degrees to get one, because the benefits of going through the process are many. And, fair or not, “like hires like.” People with degrees prefer hiring people who have jumped through similar hoops.

So, all other things being equal, a candidate with a degree has a distinct advantage over someone without. But it appears we share similar views that HOPEFULLY the person who went through college learned some valuable skills along the way.

Dan B.

A college degree has become a basic requirement today for any job opportunitiy. without having an appropriate degree from an authenticated accredited college it is not possible for any student to go for any better career opportunity at any level. Studying at a campus school sometimes feel hectic and creates problems for certain people so it should not be made an excuse to give up education as we have now the alternate to the campus schools. Online schools are offering the best online degree programs same as of the campus schools at a far less cost which helps the students to continue their education along with their jobs if they are into any. Online schools have proven to be a blessing in disguse for the students by offering online degrees in all the subjects which are available and offered in different campus schools and the fact to maintain the quality of online education is also an encouraging factor for the students to complete their degree program for their better future prospects.

Regards, Matt Williams Online Education Consultant at AskForEducation.com

Matt Williams

Interesting, however, college diplomas do not equate to higher earnings. If that were true I should be making $70,000 /year (and that is most certainly not the case). Ambition, luck, contacts, family, numerous other stuff besides sleeping through boring classes determine income. NOT college.