The cost of a college education is increasing at an alarming rate and the number of recent grads unable to find a job is at an all-time high.
No wonder then that the return on the investment of a college education is increasingly being questioned. High school students must assess the value of a college education against the long-term debt they will likely incur and the shrinking prospects not only for well-paying jobs, but any job at all.
While a college degree certainly does not guarantee a well-paying job, it is still the best investment for a student looking for economic and job prosperity. Sure the unemployment or underemployment rate for recent college grads is historically high, but that statistic tells only part of the story. The fact is that unemployment and underemployment rates of high school graduates are significantly higher than that of college graduates. The sluggish economy has had a disproportionally negative effect on those entering the job market. Still, college graduates are eventually much more likely to be gainfully employed and earn middle-class wages.
A college education makes more sense today than ever, as employers increasingly insist a college education is a basic requirement for most jobs. This is being driven in part by two important factors. First, in the current competitive global market, more low-skilled jobs are being contracted to other countries. Second, advances in technology and automation have eliminated many low-skilled jobs. Simply put, the percentage of low-skill jobs is declining. Jobs today require more complex problem solving, collaboration, influence, perspective, and critical analysis. These are the types of skills that a college education can help develop and foster. Equally important is the perception among recruiters that a college degree demonstrates that an applicant has the ability to take on a long-term challenge and not quit. The ability to learn, practice, and persevere with longer-term endeavors is an important indicator of future on-the-job performance and one that employers highly value.
The real challenge facing today’s high school students is making the best choices regarding major and institution to optimize the return on education investment. With shifting job markets, STEM and business degrees may offer graduates the greatest opportunity for job placement. However, those choices need to be balanced with aptitude, passion, and financial means. In the end, choosing education as a personal investment is a pretty safe bet. After all, education is the great equalizer in American society, offering greater prospects for social mobility and personal and professional satisfaction.