I know reading that sounds scary—“My degree, a thing of the past? psssh no!”
I do not mean all degrees will become obsolete. However, compared to previous generations where attending college and obtaining a degree led to a job upon graduation, degrees no longer hold the same value they used to.
More Educated. More Debt.
In the traditional job market there are so many people with degrees flooding the market that having one in your specified field is now commonplace. It is harder to stand out unless you have advanced degrees or experience. For a job application process that now takes place entirely electronically, how do you stand out?
It has become a downward spiral of debt amongst many. In order to move up in the world, career seekers have to obtain an expensive degree. Then, to move up in the workforce (should they secure a job with their already obtained degree), they need to obtain a more advanced degree such as a Masters or Doctorate.
I have 3 degrees and I am not using a single one of them for their intended purposes at this point. Is that due to poor choices on my part? Possibly. Does that mean that I regret going to college? No. In fact, I think a lot more is learned in a college environment than in the actual classroom, but those degrees cost money. I think everyone should explore all options, versus blindly going with the societal standard.
It is sad to see that our educational system is failing Americans on many fronts. Our K-12 system has long been touted as sub-par compared with other industrialized nations. Yes, there are some excellent schools, but inequalities in the system mean that everyone is not afforded the same education. Well-educated immigrants have long flocked to America for the chance to further their education at America’s prestigious institutions, however with rising tuition costs and increasing concerns over visas, could the tide be turning?
The Millennial College Dilemma
To go to college or to not go to college -THAT is the question! Millennials in particular are questioning whether their investment in college is worth the returns. It is a large time investment, at an increasingly exorbitant cost. College tuition rates have been rising higher than the rate of inflation since the 1980s.
Millennials are illustrious for finding the short cuts, and as a generation are particularly innovative. Labeled dreamers, they are also deeply practical. They cannot grasp the concept of paying large sums of money to earn a degree that will not guarantee them a job. A group of risk takers, they want to take control over their careers. No more 9-to-5 everyday for 50 years, to reach a retirement that is no longer secure for them. In general, they despise complacency and like to change things up, which is why they can be hard to manage in traditional workplaces. The fact that they are independent thinkers and have not always been socialized to work well in teams also contributes. They prefer equitable, versus hierarchal, work structures where they feel their contributions are valued. Perhaps this is why so many millennials are now working in start-up tech environments.
So if college may not be the answer anymore, what is the alternative? Of course, the tech industry is booming. Not just millennials, but those of all generations are becoming increasingly tech savvy. For those that don’t feel particularly ‘techy’, generally you just have to be able to get your services online. There are a number of companies that seek freelancers offering their services in industries from teaching English online, to customer support, translation services, graphic design, web design, writing, consulting, and marketing.
For those who may have a knack for computers, it can pay off big. If you decide to enter web development or computer network and security, with a certification program you can earn upwards of 70k and often six figures within several years. Although a degree in computer science may be beneficial, there are companies willing to hire people in these fields if you demonstrate the desired skills and work ethic.
Where do we go from here?
Although traditional degrees may be losing their value, this is not to say that education is on the decline in general. People are using the Internet as the main source to educate themselves. They are watching videos to teach themselves how to do things, and learning new skills on sites like Udemy or Lynda.com. Like a lot of other things moving online, education will likely just have to follow suit, and already has to a large degree. Until larger institutions become more affordable, and likely even despite that, the younger, more tech savvy, and independent workforce is taking control of their education and career moves.