It’s easy to get caught up and confused in the “is college worth it?” debate.
On one side you hear passionate and convincing arguments that colleges cost too much, don’t teach you marketable skills and bury you under mountains of debt. On the other is the equally passionate and convincing argument that a college education is the path to a higher paying job and the best way to break the cycle of poverty and build a stronger middle class.
Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, reportedly said that he finds many graduates of four-year universities lacking “job skills,” requiring them to go to a community college to get the technical training for a “real” job. This was in a Boston Globe Magazine “Learning and Earning Issue” article that also reported that in Massachusetts there are 120,000 unfilled jobs because applicants don’t have the right skills, even though twice that many people in the state are unemployed. The criticism is that we are turning out a workforce without the skills to work in places like a GE plant.
This may be true, but when company executives are asked to describe the skills they are looking for most in employees, they tell you creative thinking, innovation and an ability to communicate well. In short, “people who can think.” If there is one thing that a four-year college education prepares you for, it is that job description.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that in March 2012 the unemployment rate among four-year college graduates was 4.2 percent. That is in stark contrast to the 12.6 percent unemployment rate among those who failed to earn a high school diploma and go on to college. Unemployment for high school graduates was 8 percent, and 7.5 percent for those with an associate’s degree.
The college debate and these statistics illustrate that it’s unclear what a college education is “good for” when it comes to finding a job. You may not be well-prepared for many jobs after spending four years working hard in college, but it is also true that you will be better prepared than non-graduates for certain professional careers that require in-demand skills like creative and innovative thinking, leadership, project management, clear communication and problem-solving.
Any parent, at least those parents I know in FUEL, will tell you without question that they want their children to go to college and that they are willing to work hard and save to give them that opportunity.