Before I took up alcoholism as a career, and it’s been a richly rewarding one, I worked in the realm of human resources. I was a low-level recruiting monkey for five years: I spent my days scheduling interviews, looking at resumes, calling candidates, looking at resumes, screaming at health insurance companies and sorting resumes into great big digital piles. So, I’ve got a pretty unique view of all the hand-wringing lately about whether higher education is really “necessary” and whether students would be better off assuming all that debt, or just getting a job right out of high school.
The answer, by the way, is “yes,” and anybody who tells you otherwise is a moron or trying to sell you something. Here are four reasons why:
Good Old Bias
Sure, I could be nice about this, but why bother? If you don’t have a college degree, and you apply for any job that doesn’t involve shoveling manure, you’ll be lucky if the recruiter thinks you’re a moron before filing it under “Hell No.”
Most corporations, large or small, automatically reject resumes that don’t have a college degree on them. This isn’t really a matter of standing policy so much as the fact that everybody in the entire company probably has a degree. I spent five years holding down jobs that really should have been done by computers or outsourced to India at this point. A lot of what I was doing didn’t require higher brain function, forget higher education, but without that degree, I never would have gotten in the door.
There’s a reason for that: All the people fulminating about “common sense” and “education isn’t knowledge” don’t realize that public schools are so spotty they’re just no guarantee of quality. Anybody can probably name at least five guys from their high school who never should have been allowed to graduate. Rubber stamping is endemic in the system, just to get these tards out the door, and everyone knows it. It’s such common knowledge that even guys who have had their jobs for years went back and got their degrees just to keep up.
College proves that you can show up on time, write reasonably well, and have developed enough reasoning skills to actually function in an environment with other adults without making them want to strangle you. A high school diploma means you’re a crapshoot.
Don’t forget: Only about a third of the country even has a degree in the first place. Which leads us to…
There’s About To Be a Real Brain Drain
One thing that comes up in the media occasionally, but has HR people crapping large pieces of masonry in the glossy trade magazines every month, is the year 2013, which is the year the Baby Boomers start clocking out for good in huge numbers. Hospitals are terrified: the average age of a nurse is 46, and that’s creeping steadily up. We’re already in the middle of a nursing shortage, probably because pain, death and old people smell aren’t really appealing aspects of a workplace, and it’s just going to get worse.
The problem is that basically there aren’t enough college degrees once they start quitting. Some people believe that Boomers will cling to their jobs like barnacles, but they’ve got to give up eventually, and, being Boomers, they didn’t bother to set anybody up to take over their jobs. The nightmare is that a bunch of them retire all at once and gut mighty corporations, with nobody competent to take over.
Part of this is just the Boomers thinking they’re irreplaceable, which they aren’t, but it is a problem. They were the first generation to pull in a lot of degrees, and the generations they began weren’t as numerous and didn’t land as many degrees.
Oh, and that’s just the US: Most of the First World is greying even faster than we are, with Japan taking it on the chin so hard “elder crime” is a problem over there. Basically in ten years a guy with a college degree is going to be worth a lot on the worldwide labor market.
Like It Or Not, You’re Going To School Anyway
Let’s say, on the strength of your skills and abilities, you land a job right out of high school. For a while, you’re golden, but eventually, the technology you use changes, or you run into a ceiling of some sort, and so you take a class. Since it makes you do your job better, your company pays for it. Then you have to take another class. And another. And another.
In my time at tech companies, I met guys who started writing code in their basements in the ’70s who wound up with master’s degrees because they had to get them to keep up. Every single boss I ever had was in graduate school because otherwise he’d never keep his job. You run into this all the time in corporate America; guys who just wind up with degrees because they need them.
So, basically, you might as well get it out of the way; going to college full-time is way more fun than night school.
The Scare Stories Don’t Understand What Employers Are Looking For
This is every “college debt will destroy your life” scare story ever written: It opens with somebody who gets a hugely expensive degree in some worthless discipline, like theatre (I know what I’m talking about: I have a theatre degree), and now they’re stuck paying off six figures of debt while working as a waiter or a janitor or a jizz mopper or some other gig the solidly middle-class audience of the piece associates with the poor and Mexicans. They’ll follow it up with a story about somebody who spent upper five figures on a degree and has a “good job,” but, gasp, can’t afford a house because their student loans cost so much, giving it a little frisson of “It could happen to yoooo-oooooou!”. It’ll end with some former professor with a chip on his shoulder stating that higher education is a scam and unnecessary, probably citing some academic analysis he’s intentionally misrepresenting to sell his new book, now in stores. Everybody involved goes to “name brand” schools that you’ve heard of and make people ooh and aah.
All of the above leaves out one very important piece of information: 99% of employers don’t really care where you get your degree as long as you have one and any place that values where your degree is from over your actual ability is not a place you want to work for anyway. Sure, having Harvard on your resume is impressive, but for most jobs, they don’t care if you went to Podunk State. They don’t care what you majored in, either, especially since the guy interviewing you probably majored in something that has nothing to do with his job, either. They care that you have the degree and did well on the interview.
That’s really a key piece of information. Your average state college education runs you between $28,000 to $70,000 a year, which isn’t chump change but after grants and scholarships is pretty manageable. Your average public college student walks out $20,000 in hock, which over fifteen years plus interest works out to about $2000 a year, max. Plus, your interest is tax deductible, so you can plow that right back into your loan, meaning you might have it paid off before you turn forty.
The real moral of the story isn’t “college debt will kill you,” it’s “think about what you’re doing before you spend six figures on an Ivy League degree before saying ‘Oooh, shiny!’” Or maybe “going to college doesn’t mean you won’t act like a total idiot.”
Either way, yes, a college degree is worth your time and money. But it’s like anything else: you have to not be stupid for it to be worth anything in the first place.
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