Why Fewer People Should Go to College

“It’s the first day of the rest of your life,” or so I was told. On May 21, 2017, I received a political science degree with distinction and honors from Hofstra University, graduating a hair shy of a perfect 4.0 GPA. As I shook hands with the school’s president, I thought back to the countless professors, family members, and friends who told me just how the piece of paper he handed me would “open doors” and would be a “difference maker” with employers.  

 Fast forward three and a half years later and the number of jobs I received because of my degree is a big fat zero. Every place I have worked so far has hired me based on my skills and experience, not the essentially meaningless token of graduating college amongst the top of my class. And in my opinion, this is the way things should be. Studies clearly show that college is not the be-all and end-all. In fact, test results have demonstrated that in even the most highly-regarded universities, students make “little or no improvement in critical thinking,” on average, over the time they spend obtaining their degree. Therefore, it is undisputed that people learn significantly more skills relevant to employment when four years in a top school are substituted with four years in the workforce. Now, I do not think that college is useless, at all – far from it. Higher education is crucial to performance in a few careers, specifically in the sciences, engineering, and legal fields. However, for most workers, specifically those who have majored in liberal arts like me, having a degree practically makes no difference in their actual ability to do their job. Dare I say, the cost of college greatly exceeds its benefit for the vast majority of people who make the extremely expensive and time-consuming decision to attend.

Presumptive President-elect Joe Biden urged Congress last week to take “immediate action” to forgive $10,000 per person in student loan debts. This came after pressure from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and radical progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who begged Biden (who is currently not the President) to instead completely bypass Congress and forgive an obscene $50,000 total per person by executive order. Democrats, particularly those on the far-left fringe like Warren and socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), have long advocated for the federal government to bail out student loan borrowers, using trillions of dollars of taxpayer money. Sanders has even gone as far as to advocate for universal “free” college tuition in a plan that would mercilessly add over two trillion dollars of new taxes over ten years. It is frightening that this monumental tax hike might become a reality under a potential Biden administration, specifically given that Biden is considering nominating Sanders as his Labor Secretary.

Left-wing politicians like Warren and Sanders want students to falsely think that attending college is a “human right.” The notion that everyone is entitled to higher education (post high school) is downright absurd – no such “right” exists or is implied anywhere in the Constitution. In reality, college is nothing but an investment. In an open letter to Senator Warren herself, Capella University student David Bradshaw observed that many of his classmates fail to understand this premise, and instead fall into the trap of thinking that all education “must be worth it, no matter the subject studied or the cost paid.” This simple observation illustrates the huge disconnect between college students, who often take out huge loans to pursue majors that give them barely any practical skills applicable to the “real world” (an example being the infamous “gender studies”), and the job market.

Renowned behavioral economist Bryan Caplan stated that hiring managers look at people who have college degrees almost like they possess a special “sticker” on their forehead. Graduating from college is nothing more than a “signal” to employers. When they sift through resumes, they are not so much concerned with actual skills candidates learned in college, as they are with the fact that they have, or do not have a degree.  As a supervisor at my old job put it, if you get straight A’s in college, it essentially means that 25 professors agreed that you are a good employee and are willing to follow the orders they give you. After all, if you did just that for four years in a classroom setting, it makes sense that you do the same in an office. He knew firsthand, as he was a graduate of one of the most prestigious universities in the country, but like me, did not use or even need his degree for the position he held. In other words, a college degree doesn’t guarantee anyone a job – it is simply a recommendation, but only really when it is accompanied by a top GPA.

What is truly baffling to me is that American culture expects and effectively requires that 17 and 18-year-olds put four full years and tens, in some cases hundreds, of thousands of dollars into just getting a “signal.” The higher education industry has done an incredible job of marketing itself by misleading people to believe that all degrees are useful to prepare students for meaningful work, and also that they are the only way to signal to jobs that they are qualified. This very notion that you have to go to college to get ahead in life (which is easily debunked by looking at the long list of incredibly successful people without degrees) is what is responsible for the student debt crisis in the first place. Additionally, the fact that almost everyone has a degree now is causing the crisis to spiral out of control. The signal of just having a bachelor’s degree is simply not enough anymore, and therefore job seekers are looking to stand out further by spending even more money on postgraduate education. This cycle is terrifyingly unsustainable. Caplan sums it up perfectly: “We can’t have an economy based on stickers.”The solution to our nation’s college debt problem is not to forgive existing debts, as this would require an unnecessary tax hike and still not completely solve the problem at hand. It is absolutely not making college “free,” which really means taxpayer-funded, as a basic understanding of economics shows that “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” People who chose wisely not to make the investment should not pay for the mistakes of those who did. Instead, what needs to happen is the end of our current “sticker based” economy, and therefore getting rid of the need for a degree to “open doors.” This is a change that American culture must adopt – meaning that the government must stay out of higher education for it to take place. For starters, we would have to normalize getting a job or enlisting in the military out of high school, which proves to be a wise decision for millions of successful Americans. Increased emphasis on vocational training, as is the case in Switzerland and Germany would help as well, as a lot of students who attend college obviously do not like academics. If we do all of this, the only people who take out exorbitant student loans will almost always be able to use their degree to obtain meaningful work and be able to pay back their loans. Capitalism truly is a beautiful thing when it is actually allowed to work.

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