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Is College 'worth It'?

Posted on the 15 March 2013 by Sandislin @ed_republc
I've attended a few events recently where people have debated the topic of whether college is 'worth it'. NPR also did a short segment last week on a new book for Hacking Your Education. Check out the comments in the NPR article - there's a lot of rich, healthy debate.
I'd sum up my personal opinion with these three points:
  1. College is very expensive and getting more so.
  2. College grads are much more likely to be employed than high school grads (3.8% unemployment for college grads vs 7.9% for high school grads, Feb 2013 BLS), plus college grads earn 63% more on a weekly basis (2012 BLS).
  3. Employers commonly use bachelor's degrees as a screening criteria.
Given the above, if a student can afford getting a bachelor's degree, it seems like a huge risk to skip it. Even if it means working part-time, going to a state school, living at home, or starting at community college to reduce costs.
Those who advocate skipping college sometimes cite the success of dropouts like Zuckerberg and Gates. Well, how many college dropouts ended up as successfully as them? And how would one compare dropouts from Harvard versus dropouts from any college? Yes, people can succeed on alternative paths. It's just more difficult and a lot more risky.
I think the challenge for everyone participating in the debate is that the existing institutional system will take years to change. In the near term, college costs are not going to suddenly stabilize, employers are not going to move en masse to competency-based screening, the economy is not going to move to lower-skilled labor, and the public K-12 system is not going to be producing higher quality graduates. Yet students are having to make decisions now where they incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for years in the future.
What we are seeing, and what I believe will continue to emerge, is more cost-effective alternatives for people to pursue self-learning and lifelong learning opportunities, like online learning and bridges from 2-yr to 4-yr colleges. I'm excited that Ed Republic can be a small part of this by helping people find online learning opportunities.

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