Pomp or Circumstance:
Do you really need a college degree?
This spring, thousands of college seniors will toss their caps into the air at graduation ceremonies across the country, embarking on what they hope will be a bright, financially stable future. After all, they’ve earned a degree; doesn’t that guarantee a decent or at least a high-paying job?
Not necessarily. We’ve heard reports that a person with a college degree will automatically make more money than someone without one for many years. According to the Princeton Review online, a study conducted by the Census Bureau and Department of Labor in 2002 found that an individual with a high school diploma will average $1.2 million in total income over their lifetime. A person with an associate’s degree will earn $1.6 million, and a person with a bachelor’s degree will make around $2.1 million.
But Marty Nemko, author of “The All-in- One College Guide” (Barron’s, 2004) and “Cool Careers for Dummies” (For Dummies, 2001), says that data is misleading.
“Most of that data is retrospective,” says Nemko. “In the ‘60s, yes, a person with a degree made more money than a person without one, but that’s becoming less and less the case.” Nemko says many jobs that used to require degrees are being shipped offshore or are using technology instead of humans. With the exception of computer jobs, such as a program system analyst, the job market for college grads is “highly competitive” and, therefore, alters the old statistics.
“I would bet that these days, a person who becomes a good electrician, a carpenter or a robotics repair person will earn more over their lifetime than the typical liberal arts undergraduate with a sociology, women’s studies or even psychology degree,” Nemko adds.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 68 percent of high school graduates make the leap to four-year colleges, the highest percentage in history. Often, the choice to go to college is one that high school seniors are pushed into by parents or peers. It is a decision made without understanding the other options available to someone wishing to continue education after high school.
Vocational schools – often referred to as private trade schools or community colleges – are a solid choice for many students, namely due to finances. According to the Department of Education, a bachelor’s degree student averages a bill of $8,655 each year for tuition, room and board. That doesn’t count books, tutors or basketball games, either. On the contrary, vocational schools provide career training in half the time of a four-year college. According to Marty Nemko, they are cheaper, more flexible (most don’t adhere to a twosemester cycle) and often “do a wonderful job.”
Nemko says there is no singular step that suits all graduates. Steven Spielberg, John D. Rockefeller, Walt Disney and Madonna never attended college.
Ryan Allis is proof-positive. CEO of both Broadwick Corp., a provider of the permission-based e-mail marketing software, and Virante Inc., a web marketing and search engine optimization firm, Allis has turned two ventures into million-dollar successes without a college diploma. This 20-year-old Bradenton, Fla., wiz did it before he had a high school diploma. So what does a millionaire Internet entrepreneur to do as an encore? Head to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, to major in economics, of course.
“I finally decided to go for two reasons. First, in addition to marketing and entrepreneurship, I was very interested in development economics and reducing poverty in developing nations, and knew I would not be able to get far in these fields without a degree. Secondly, I hope to be able to get an MBA one day,” says Allis.
With bigger goals in mind, Allis realized that education was a necessary step to achieve his humanitarian goals, although an unorthodox move for someone already deemed a success.
However, the business he started at age 11 remains in his future.
“I plan to continue to build Broadwick and Virante for a few years, then go off to Harvard or Stanford for MBA school. After that, I’d like to continue my career as a serial entrepreneur,” he says.
Ultimately, the choice is an individual one. If you earned A’s and B’s in high school, have at least a 1350 SAT or 20 ACT, have a sense of career direction and believe that future debt is worth the educational rewards, a four-year college is likely the right choice. As most grads will tell you, college is not just about studying a particular subject but also about creating one’s worldview and cultivating a sense of self.
If you disliked school, got average grades and still don’t know whether you want to be a zoologist or a retail clerk, put down the college application. Marty Nemko says college is just one route toward a successful life; take your time and make the choice that is right for you.