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The Value of Education: Is College Worth It?

College graduates in caps and gownsSince the recession hit, more and more people have been questioning the value of a college education. Research institutes, the media and everyday people are asking the big question: Is college worth it?

In the debate, many have pointed to decreased job and financial security, coupled with increased college tuition, as big arguments against the value of a college education.

But some still insist that college is an experience worth having, for both personal and professional reasons. Ultimately, the question of whether college is worth it depends on the individual – and his or her goals.

Looking at the Value of a College Education

In a Pew Research Center survey, “Is College Worth It?” released in May 2011, only 55 percent of respondents who had graduated from a four-year college said that their experience helped them prepare for the “real world” – a job and career. Increasingly, many are saying that college, with its enormous price tag, just isn’t worth it.

But college does still have its merits and value. Thirty-nine percent of respondents in the Pew study said the purpose of college is to help students grow personally and intellectually. College is without a doubt an opportunity for enormous growth.

College educations also have monetary value: The same Pew Research survey also shows that college graduates, on average, earn substantially more over the course of a lifetime than those with just a high school diploma.

There are also some career paths that absolutely require a college education, from law school to entry-level publishing jobs. Despite the arguments against it, a college education still has very concrete value in the job market that is hard to replace.

Times When College Might Not Be Worth It

There are a few specific instances when a college education may not be worth the time and effort. For instance, individuals who are interested in trade careers, such as plumbing or electrician’s work, may be better served by getting training at a technical school.

If you have a very concrete idea of what you want to do and a college education will not help you get there, then a four-year liberal arts degree may not be worth it for you. That said, just because you might not need an intimate knowledge of “War and Peace” to further your future career doesn’t mean that the value of a college education automatically equals zero.

If you want to be an electrician, that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t get your bachelor of arts if you’re dying to. The two dreams are not mutually exclusive. If you are willing to take on the financial burden because you value a college education and think it will help you, though not necessarily your career, then go for it.

Looking Ahead: Trends Affecting the Value of College

Despite reforms in financial aid, many students (and their parents) continue to find the costs of college intimidating. Some have even looked to Canadian higher education as a solution, since the significantly cheaper tuition rates seem to be a good value.

College is not a decision to be made lightly — it’s a huge investment of both time and money. As such, the debate about the value of a college education — and whether college is worth it — continues.

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