An Examination of the Traditional Value Associated With Higher Education Relative to Current Socioeconomic Conditions

By: Beaule Agerter


It wasn't until the mid twentieth century that college degrees began to be more commonplace. At that time and through the following three or four decades a college education was deemed of great value in terms of both prestige and earnings potential for the graduate. This traditional valuation of upper education continues today- at least to some degree. Socioeconomic factors are challenging this traditional premise leading to questions regarding the cost/benefit ratio of such an investment.

According to various surveys the price of a college education at private not-for-profit Universities currently ranges between $1,000.00 for tuition per year upwards to $61,000.00. The most expensive are famous schools synonymous with the finest education one can buy. There was a time that a degree from such a school practically guaranteed employment at high wages. Public institutions are costing between $800.00 to $16,000.00 per year for tuition. Degrees from such schools do not carry the prestige of the ivy league schools but tradition holds that graduates will still earn significantly more than those without such degrees. Community Colleges range about ? the costs of public Universities, falling between $2,500.00 per year up to $18,000.00 per school year. There are also the trade schools- both public and private-for-profit. Tuition for public trade schools averages around $2,500.00 per subject. Tuition at for-profit private trade schools ranges between $1,800.00 and $25,000.00 per subject.

There is a great deal of conflicting information available concerning the advantages of one option over the other. Many old assumptions are currently proving erroneous. For example, it is estimated that 50% of students from public and/or private Universities are, upon graduation, either unemployed or under-employed. Apparently an upper education is no longer a certain path to gainful employment. The percentage of graduates who find work in their field of study is just as dismal. Trade schools on the other hand boast of 95% placement rates for their graduates. Such claims are being challenged as twisted statistics that count any type of employment wether in or out of the field of study, part or full-time, gainful or under-employed. Conventional institutions describe their products as well rounded, diversified and comprehensive. As the cost of a higher education continues to soar the value of so many courses unrelated to your core studies diminishes. Trade schools provide concentrated course work limited to specific studies in the choice of subject matter. However, some employers complain that graduates from trade schools lack the refined skills that only experience brings, something which the brevity of the study length at trade schools is unable to provide.

The natural progression of a prosperous society is to go from a manufacturing base into a service oriented society. The more prosperous a society becomes the more they can afford to consider other issues besides bringing home the bacon. For example, as environmental awareness grows people shun the extraction of the raw materials needed for manufacturing and thus limit industrial access to resources in favor of tourism. Raw materials grown on the farm begin to disappear as land is bought up to satisfy the demand for closer access to recreation areas and rural landscapes. Service oriented businesses such as house cleaning, livestock tending (especially horses), landscape maintenance, house sitting, errand running, pet care (even fish), and many other such businesses continue to pop up as affluence grows and people become more interested in satisfying immediate desires. Unfortunately, for the most part, providing services is often only moderately profitable. Consequently, the gap between affluence and poverty grows as the middle class disappears. Think in terms of the fast food industry- a typical service oriented field in which employment does not make for prosperity. As a society becomes more and more service oriented the demand for graduates from Universities decreases (who needs someone with an MBA to flip burgers?). As the shift from manufacturing continues the need for skilled trades also decreases. Thus the previous educational paradigm changes as well.

It behooves anyone who is seeking a modicum of prosperity to perform careful research prior to investing in any specific higher education. When investing in the stock market it is standard procedure to analyze the opportunities prior to purchasing or selling stock. One is well served to apply the same principle when investing in a higher education especially during economic downturns. Important issues include choosing a field of study and training that has a high demand in the workplace, and that likely will still have such upon graduation in a few years. Streamlining the process for maximum efficiency is also very important. Stories abound of Universities cutting classes to save money which cuts jeopardize student's ability to complete their degrees. News reports are peppered with accounts of students arriving at trade schools only to find the doors locked and their dreams dashed. If the stability of a firm can be analyzed prior to stock investments then the same can be accomplished for educational institutions. Studying the cost/benefit ratio of at least three options will present a clearer picture for making decisions regarding how to prepare for a career. If one intends to enter into debt to finance their education the duration of that debt after graduation should be calculated and compared with other goals for prioritization.

The best option in today's changing times may be to combine learning a trade with earning a degree from a conventional academic institution. Through application of hard research principles one will discover various sources of grants to help finance such efforts. Keep the debt as low as possible. By pursuing dual purposes one can acquire skills in both arenas that can help one achieve both goals. With a trade and a degree a person is insured with a second avenue to follow should the first choice prove unsuccessful. With the changing times it is no longer as important where one attends school as it is to possess the level of skills employers want once a person graduates. So seek the best value for your educational dollar. Remember to calculate room and board as well as tuition and books. Compare the advantages of attending local schools to that of living outside the home to attend school elsewhere. Talk to and visit those working in the field of study you are interested in. See what the labor demands are. Learn what the real living wages amount to. Shadow a person in that field to learn as much as you can prior to investing the years and money it will require to make a career therein. If the skills you need to gain employment in the field of your choice are available through apprenticeships or certifications or other methods less costly than a traditional education then by all means take advantage of such. Remember that in this global economy with instant communications new ways of earning a living are opening up daily.

Educational values have not changed- it still remains important to educate ourselves all our lives. But traditional educational methods are changing in value and as more graduates are discovering there are no guarantees that their years of effort and the money they invest will result in realization of the goals they had when they started. Careful research, sound judgement, and advice from wise and trusted associates are all essential prior to committing oneself to any course of study if one expects to reap real life benefits therefrom. As society continues to evolve perhaps self-employment will become the norm again. That is a consideration for another article.

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K Smith has worked as an environmental scientist and small business owner, neither of which were in the field of study covered by the University degree earned. To read more see www.americandreamchaser.us

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