What is higher education really worth?

Feature, Lifestyles, Opinion, Student Health, Student Life

While others will be donning their caps and gowns, celebrating with friends, and preparing to cross the stage, I will be walking out of the gate of learning and into the real world without a diploma in my hand.

In other words, I am dropping out.

This is not because I am incapable of finishing, nor is it some form of punishment. Like my peers, I have completed my degree requirements. I even carry a 3.7 GPA. The only difference is that I will not be accepting my diploma.

Scott Hartmann

You may think I am crazy, that I am throwing it all away for nothing, or that I have wasted my time, but I am making the only right decision there is. I have climbed out of the cave, and there is simply no going back in.

If you are like me, you went to college because it is what you are supposed to do. We are told that a college degree is a fast-track to financial success. And to get there, we are willing to chain ourselves to student loans that will take who knows how long to pay back.

This is something that we accept and pursue without question, but I am taking a stand to ask why — to ask, “What is higher education really worth?”

If you know Professor Michael Hiltbrunner, then you have probably heard him say that the biggest difference between students today and when he started teaching is that they used to go for an education, but now they go for jobs.

Universities that were once communities of learning have devolved into factories, pumping out students with the seal of approval on their foreheads, as if having a college degree, and the accompanying social and financial status, is somehow necessary for the good life.

A high school diploma used to be enough. But today, if we want to get ahead of our peers, we must go to college. And yet, this too is changing. The more people that have a college degree, the less it is worth.

Those who finish college are facing a harsh reality. A four-year degree is no longer sufficient to secure a job. In many cases, four years of hands-on experience in a field is more valuable to employers than four years of theoretical training.

So do we go back to school and add more letters to the end of our names? Do we pursue a Master’s degree? A Doctorate? How long will we chase this fevered dream before we realize that the certificate is not worth the paper it is printed on?

Pursuing education solely for the sake of a job is a mistake. Education is not a means to an end. It is not about producing more qualified workers, it is about fostering better people. It is a lifelong process that cannot be condensed into four years.

Education is an end in and of itself. It teaches us the value of life, and it allows us to make sense of our experiences. The wise person is not simply someone who has achieved a benchmark of competence. Nor is someone wise who can make reference to an acclaimed work of art.

The truly wise person is someone who knows what the right thing to do is in a given situation. They know this because they have experience and because they have reflected.

Yet the pernicious system in which we live deems my education to be worthless simply because I do not carry a certificate. Employers and workers alike will look down on me as a failure.

I refuse to buy into this narrative.

Going to college is not the only path to a life of fulfillment. It does not define a person’s diligence, integrity, and perseverance. All having a college degree really shows is that you bought into a self-affirming club. A club to which many will spend the rest of their lives paying dues.

In twenty years, when you are working your nine-to-five job, with your two point five kids in your little slice of suburbia, you will look back on your time in college and wonder, what was it really worth?

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