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We all want to be successful, do we not?

The value of a college degree

Antonio Wycklendt, Staff Writer

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In today’s world, it seems that there is this mindset of go to school, graduate, go to college, graduate again, and then go off and get a good job. However, is a higher education degree even necessary to succeed in today’s world?

Look at Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg for examples. They have two things in common. First, they are all college dropouts. Second, they all have companies that today are worth billions of dollars.

Is their limited higher education what’s contributed to their outstanding success? Probably not. These people are what we would call “exceptions.” So, what about us? Is a higher education necessary for us to succeed? And what defines success?

As the seniors of NDP are wrapping up their college applications, some may ask themselves, “Is college really worth it?”

Believe me, I know I have. 98 percent of NDP seniors will immediately go on to pursue a college degree, so it’s important to explore the relationship between a higher educational degree and success. The path students chose to pursue in life heavily relies on the type of degree they have, as well as the job market they plan to enter. We all want success in life, and deciding whether or not to go to college is the first step in this process.

Attending college today seems like it has become a socially necessary task. People chose to go to college because they feel like it will give them happiness and success in the long run. I’m here to tell you that’s not always the case.

However, in Notre Dame’s case, the 98 percent statistic is well above the national average. Nationally, “The percentage of students enrolling in college in the fall immediately following high school completion was 68.4 percent in 2014,” according to the Nation Center for Education Statistics.

However, an academic education is not right for everyone, thus nullifying the claim that college equals success.

Senior Jake Alofs says that it “depends on the person. If someone is tenacious enough to pursue a career that doesn’t require qualification (like startup companies), then no. If someone wants to enter a specific field with requirement, then yes. It really only relates to business.”

Pursuing a college degree does have its ups and downs. On the plus side, an individual with a college degree will statistically make more money than a person without one in the long run. Also, he or she will have a competitive edge when applying for jobs. College also provides an education and skills you can use in other aspects of your life.

On the downside, college is more expensive than ever, and may leave you with significant student debt. According to the Student Loan Hero website, the average student loan debt for the 2016 graduating class has increased 6 percent from last year, coming out to $37,172. Furthermore, college requires significant time commitment, so you won’t start your career for at least four years. Don’t forget too that it is also mentally draining and exhausting.

Arizona comes in 47th place when it comes to education in America. A report by the Arizona Board of Regents says that “57 percent of the Arizona students who graduated from high school in 2005-06 went on to college, but only 19 percent graduated from a four-year institution within six years.”

In a poll of the NDP senior class, 26 percent intend to pursue a bachelor’s degree, 56 percent their master’s and 20 percent plan to pursue a Ph.D.

From that breakdown, 40 percent of the students plan to enter the medical job market, 26 percent business, 4 percent technology, 4 percent aviation/aerospace and 2 percent academia/education.

The other 24 percent consisted of an “other” category, with seven categorical responses: law, federal/justice, research, entertainment, arts, acting and architecture/engineering.

So, what did this poll say about success and a higher education? Do the students at NDP believe a higher education beyond high school is necessary to succeed in today’s world?

Like many seniors, Etienne Ruiz is focused on one thing: college. Photo: Antonio Wycklendt

Unsurprisingly, yes. In fact, 86 percent agreed that a higher education after high school is necessary for success in today’s world. The other 14 percent said it wasn’t.

Senior Richard Pilz says that he believes a higher education is necessary “because of how employers look for someone that is qualified.” Pilz also says that “a degree isn’t enough; one also has to be different and be able to offer something that sticks out from others.”

Many—such as social studies teacher Dr. Eric Shuler—also say yes, a higher education is necessary. “Look at the statistics,” he said. “People who go to college and have a degree make more money in the end.”

English teacher Caitlin Melnychenko also points out that pursuing a higher education “is important and not just because of the educational aspect of it.”

She said, “The social and extracurricular parts are just as important because you truly learn who you are and what you value during your college years.”

Others do not share this view. Depending on who you ask, different experts tend to have opposing views regarding this topic, such as Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, a company which provides leading research and advisory services firm in enterprise learning, talent management, and talent acquisition.

Bersin recommends we “keep our minds open.” Based on his statistics, “Half of U.S. college graduates are looking for work, college cost has risen by 40 percent over the last 10 years, and college graduates now have more than a trillion dollars of debt.”

Sounds deterring, right? Well, if you are one of the many who decide not to go to college, you have options.

According to U.S. News, by 2018 there will be a whopping 14 million decent paying available jobs that will only require an associate’s degree.

Google, a multi-billion-dollar company, reports that 14 percent of their staff have never gone to college. They say that these staff members have spent years in their bedrooms or basements perfecting the computer programming skills that have help them be successful at Google. And these employees get paid anywhere from $70,000 to $100,000 a year to work for Google.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to perfect some sort of skill to work at a high-end company like Google, you could be a boilermaker who makes a median annual wage of $56,560. You could even install and repair elevators for $76,659 a year.

If you decide to put in two years and obtain an associate’s degree, you could even be an air-traffic controller, living comfortably with your $122,530 annual wage.

Currently, there is about three million “skilled labor” jobs that have vacancies. These are jobs like electricians and plumbers, whose jobs are high in demand, but low in the number of people qualified or interested in doing them. Because of this, talented individuals who pursue these jobs can be making $100,000 a year by age 30.

So, clearly it is possible to make a living without a post high school education, however trends in university enrollment suggest that more and more people are deciding to take the college route.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, college enrollment for the fall of 2016 is estimated to be about 20.5 million. This is a 5.2 million increase since the year 2000.

A survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute concluded that the two main reasons students are pursuing a higher education today are “to be able to get a better job and to make more money.”

But does an education always guarantee a higher paying job? Does money guarantee success in life? How do people with various levels of education define success?

“I define success as an accomplishment that truly meets a goal that someone has set,” said Melnychenko.

Dr. Shuler took a Christian approach and defined success as having a fulfilling life that’s useful to others. He also said being able to support oneself can be associated with success.

Senior counselor Gizelle Wong had a different approach as well, defines success as “someone who has set a goal for him/herself, have taken steps towards their goals, and achieving them.”

Wong also made an important note, saying that “Sometimes we do have to adjust our goals and evaluate how realistic it is, but personally feeling happy and content about what you have accomplished is my definition of success.”

In the same poll of the senior class here at NDP, 36 percent said they associate success with happiness, 26 percent said money, 22 percent said making a difference, ten percent said effectiveness in life and six percent said having balance in life.

As you can see, success means different things to different people, so it’s hard to say whether a college degree is necessary to succeed in life.

Rasaq Okoya, a Nigerian billionaire and industrialist said that “education gives people false confidence, it makes people relax, trusting in the power of their certificates rather than in working hard.”

Furthermore, leadership skills, decision making, and people management are traits that college cannot teach. According to a Cornell College and University of Texas MBA graduate, “self-education is the best kind of education.”

Because of this, the value of a degree is decreasing. As senior Denver Kedish puts it, “A bachelor’s degree is basically the new high school diploma.”

Senior Surrein Maniraju works on his college applications. Photo: Antonio Wycklendt

According to Dr. Shuler however, attending college is worth it because, in the long run, many people end up getting a degree, so competing with them for a job is going to be harder without one.

It’s true. According to the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median salary of those who hold a bachelor’s degree make about twice as much as those who just have a high school diploma.

However, the 25th percentile of those holding a bachelor’s degree make virtually the same as someone who ended their education after high school.

So why did Dr. Shuler decided to pursue his Ph. D? Was it for the money? No. Dr. Shuler said he did it because he loved learning, wanted to find something new and wanted the skills to create new knowledge.

If he wanted to pursue a higher education for the money, he would have “gone into the business sector, not the humanities.”

Even Melnychenko decided to pursue her master’s degree not for the money but because she loves “being a student…and just learning new things. If being a professional student was a career choice, I would do that in a heartbeat,” she said.

Melnychenko also said that, “A college education has the ability to open many doors, but sometimes, they are not the right doors for that person.”

Wong has two friends who “took two completely different paths in regards to their education and goals, but I believe that they are both successful in their chosen profession as they are doing something that they love.”

Another way of seeing it is the level of talent an individual possess compared to his or hers amount of higher education. Sometimes talent can guarantee more success in a particular trade as opposed to having a Ph.D. in some other job market.

Look at actors or musicians. Many of them don’t have a post high school education and are some of the most well-known names in the world today.

Just because you have your degree doesn’t mean you will have the job you’ve always anticipated. Today, there are a lot of college graduates who have jobs unrelated to their majors. You can get a degree, but don’t always count on there being an available job for you.

“A higher education is necessary because of the increased competition in the American workforce due to the over amount of people and lessening job opportunities,” said freshman Bailey Shannon.

College is more expensive than ever and requires many sacrifices today. However, statistics show that it is actually one of the best investments out there today. College graduates get paid more in the long run, and a degree is mandatory for many of the desirable high paying jobs.

On the contrary, skipping the college route may not be so bad after all. There are many decent and high paying jobs that require little to no post high school education and can still leave someone with a solid foundation.

All in all, it seems to come down to the individual and their preferences. A higher education may lead them down an extraordinary path of success filled with whatever they please. However, many people have time and time again proven that a higher education is not necessary to have some form of success in today’s world, whether that be monetary assets or happiness.

Related Story:

College degree doesn’t always mean more money

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Voice of the Notre Dame Prep Saints
We all want to be successful, do we not?