Is College the Best Option?

The Old Man

A college degree has gotten super expensive. Since you pay the bill, college should be the express path to a successful career.

Boomers have watched college tuition fees double or triple, yet little has changed in the course work since we went to college. Look at the course offerings for your kids or grandkids. The classes will look familiar. What's changed is the cost of higher education. Boomers could go to college, work part-time and finish with a degree without being burdened by student loan debt. That's not possible today. Students are graduating with a heavy load of debt. In 1970 the average student loan debt per graduate was $1,070, and by 2020 it rose to $30,000 per student. That's a real burden when you are beginning your career.

Is a college degree worth $30,000 in debt?

I believe in education, but that number scares me —but any specialized fields will rack up much more than $30,000.

A university degree would make you a more productive citizen in a perfect world, but does it? What skills did your first job require?

Our world is far from perfect. It often feels more like a dog-eat-dog world than anything else. I would rather see students graduate with outstanding professional skills than waste two years on general education — I believe the required two years of general education are a waste of time and money. Make them optional if anyone wants to pay extra. Students should graduate high school with all the general education they need. They should also have the skills necessary for college without the need for remediation. Right now, kids are given proficiency tests in English and math on acceptance to college, then based on the results. They are placed in remedial classes learning what they should have learned in high school. The first two years of college are the same as they were fifty years ago. Why? All the general education is available at one's fingertips through the internet. Employers do not pay high salaries for general knowledge. They pay for professional skills. Students should enter college with a specific goal and focus their time in higher education, honing those professional skills. If those skills require a higher English language proficiency level, then make those classes part of the degree program.

Stop running everyone through the same one-size-fits-all collection of general education courses.

I have a business degree and a liberal studies degree. I got the liberal studies degree to prepare for a career as an elementary school teacher. I got the same general education as everyone, plus I got an additional two years of upper-division general education. None of those classes touched on teaching methodology. Nothing even hinted at how to teach kids. Everything about learning to be an actual teacher was left to the fifth year, the student teaching year. A student-teacher spends their days working in a master teacher's classroom during this final year. Afternoon and evenings were seminars where we discussed what was happening in the classroom and sat through a series of guest lecturers. What we did not receive were practical lessons for how to teach. Especially lacking was instruction on how to teach reading. Never did I receive any helpful information on how to maintain discipline in the classroom. These essential skills fall under on-the-job training in the first-year teacher's classroom— only there is no on-the-job training for teachers. The quickest way to get fired is a lack of control in the classroom setting. But classroom discipline was a subject that was unworthy of attention in my college classes.

Were you prepared for your first job? Did you find two years of general education useful or something to get out of the way?

One aspect of university coursework has changed since the Boomers went to school — universities have added two to three upper-division general education required classes that have nothing to do with the student's major. Adding yet more general ed is a step in the wrong direction. Perhaps universities could reduce the number of years to earn a degree simply by removing the bloated general ed classes. Students pay a stiff price for their university education. At the very least, they should be able to choose meaningful coursework that will further their careers in place of the university's "required courses in general education." Colleges and universities must recognize that there is competition for student attention. New online educational programs are being created and improved upon every day. While business and industry personnel departments may be slow to recognize these new talent and competency sources, they are ultimately looking for the best-trained individuals to fill their job openings. As more students graduate from alternative programs and prove themselves in the workplace, the requirement for a four-year degree will become a thing of the past. Skills and competency will reign over the four-year degree. In today's highly technological world, skilled workers are in demand. Expensive university programs should provide their students with the skillset necessary to compete for their chosen career. It should be the shortest possible path without the bloatware of general education attached. At the very least, this would shorten the course work by at least one year for a typical degree program while reducing the overall cost of college by one-quarter as well.

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Looking for solutions to improve our world. I write about politics, education, climate change, and any issues important to average Americans struggling to survive in a world gone mad.

Chico, CA
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