A lot of discussion has been had concerning the value of a college degree in the current economic market. Article after article and study after study has been done arguing for both sides really, so no matter what your opinion is concerning a collegiate education you can find some evidence to support it. The primary discourse around the topic stems from the overall costs vs. the eventual rewards/benefits of a college degree, particularly concerning which major/degree plan is actually worth pursuing. The concept being that “frivolous” degrees in the humanities or liberal arts are the realm and purview of the affluent and privileged as they are supposedly not much more than posturing and intellectual masturbation at best. Obviously, if one is going to spend the money, time, and effort in pursuing higher education they should obtain a degree of actual value such as one in the “hard” sciences or business that will lead to certain employment. While I understand the argument for such a position, I am not concerned with discussing this particular aspect of higher education as I stated earlier whatever your opinion is you can find some evidence to support it and continuing said discussion will only lead further and further down the rabbit hole Alice.
Instead, I am more interested in discussing the intrinsic and non-concrete value of college beyond simply the acquisition of a degree. Although obtaining a college degree does eventually lead to better employment and financial opportunities, this should not be the sole factor by which the collegiate experience is measured by. Growing up in a small town in Texas near the Mexican border, I was essentially and easily one of the smartest and accomplished students. I don’t say this as a means of ego or false hubris merely to establish the limited pool of comparison and opportunity where I originally called home. My singular goal growing up was to leave my hometown and go away to college as I believed that experience would undoubtedly be infinitely better than being where I was. In a way I was right, however, college also did a pretty good job of kicking my ass out of complacency. Whereas before I was excelling in the lead with minimal effort, in college I was not only not one of the smartest students on campus, I was rarely the brightest in the classroom. The knowledge that I went from cream of the crop to roughly above average was actually rather edifying and humbling. For the first time, I was not expected to have the answer. In fact, in many cases no one did and we had to work together to figure out what the right question was to begin with.
In college, I was legitimately tested and not just on an academic level. All my previous prejudices, beliefs, ideas, and worldview were challenged on a daily basis. Some were kept, a few left by the wayside, and most were altered or expanded. To be clear this was done of my own volition and not because of some nefarious professors or systems tried to force their perceptions upon my “feeble” mind. Truth be told I often disagreed with most of my professors and peers (I’ve always been a bit confrontational) but was always willing to discuss and adjust my perspective. Still every day in college brought about a new experience and opportunity to learn and grow that other locations and experiences simply do not afford. After all, where else do you have a microcosm of truly diverse individuals with nearly completely different endgames. For the most part, you will see the same people with the same goals from kindergarten to graduation and work environment rarely have the diversity and opportunity provided on a college campus. Essentially, college is like going to a different country every semester where you have to learn new rituals, rules, customs, and languages while trying to engage with new people and systems. All this is done during some of your most formative years in an attempt to begin to answer some of life’s most profound questions: Who am I really? What is my purpose? What am I supposed to do with my life? What really interests me? Etc.? Obviously, these questions are not really answered in college, but they do begin to be asked in earnest.
Is college getting too expensive? Of course. Should something be done to better regulate such costs and improve the overall experience? Definitely. Is college meant to lead into a career or profitability? In part, but college is much more than just a diploma at the end of four, maybe five or six, years of coursework. It is a unique opportunity to truly learn beyond the basic lessons taught in high school and to begin to find your actual identity and purpose. I am not saying that you shouldn’t pursue a degree in Project Management with the goal of landing the sweet gig after graduation if that is what you really want, but merely that when measuring college more should be put on the scales than the profit margin of diploma.