I have had a chance to speak with a few university students lately. Some of them are coworkers and some are working in the same building I do. They are full of hope, dreaming of a great career once they finish university. They pay top dollars for their education and hold part-time jobs to pay for some of the expenses. They live busy lives, sailing toward a better future in their minds. Are their dreams realistic? Will they end up where they want to be? Is it worth pursuing a university education?
As Ken Coates and Bill Morrison point out in their article, Your University Education May Be Worth Less Than You Think, universities often make a million dollar promise. Basically, the idea is that over the course of a lifetime, a university graduate will earn a million dollars more than a person without such degree. Unfortunately, this promise has come into doubt with an increasing number of graduates ending up in mediocre jobs. For example, one of my acquaintances went to business school. He graduated this past June. He works in the building I do as a call centre agent, managing stock market portfolios for clients who have questions or difficulties. As admirable as it sounds, he makes not much more money than people at other parts of the call centre who have not yet finished university. Moreover, the job is repetitive and boring, according to him. I am sure this is not the job he was dreaming of when he was cramming for exams last year. Was it worth the effort?
I think the issue is that the promise of a better life has created an ambition for many to flock to universities. Of course, universities love it because it creates increasing revenues for them. Unfortunately, with the erosion of universities, a price had to be paid. Nowadays, the competition is great for even a mediocre job in an economy that has not enjoyed serious growth for almost a decade. It seems that a university education no longer provides what it used to. As Ken Coates and Bill Morrison state in the above mentioned article, nowadays, success can be attributed more to personal qualities and family background than a fancy university degree. A smart and talented young person backed by financial help from a wealthy family with good connections has more than a chance to succeed. University education is little more than formality for a talented and wealthy offspring from a good family. It seems that money and connection can take a person further in life than a university education. Does this seem unfair?
In addition, universities have lowered their standards over the years. They increased their tuitions, but decreased their full-time teaching stuff. Most universities employ professors on the contract basis with no promise of the contract ever leading to a full-time position. The underpaid contract workers are dealing with an increased number of students with often times mega-classes of hundreds of students. Students arriving from high school also struggle due to the little individual attention they receive and to the inflated grades their high school teachers handed out to them to get into university. It is well known, mentioned in nearly all articles about university education, that almost a third of them never make it through university.
The sad fact about university is that it no longer lives up to the promise of creating well-rounded education either. Having deemphasized liberal arts, fine arts and social science educations, the newer generations of students do not seem to gain the skills of critical and analytic thinking, sophisticated writing or general leadership ability while at university. How could they? In a supersized class with little attention paid to them and with the sole focus of giving them the right credits to graduate to have a career under their belt, they cannot possibly gain much wisdom or true knowledge.
Is university worth attending? I would say that unless a person has a goal of entering a professional program that requires a university degree, such as a law degree or medical degree, then, it may be worthwhile to slow down and think it through before enrolling. A better strategy would be to have a career goal. A young person should figure out first what he or she wants to become. One should not go to school without a plan, unless the person has rich and well connected family members. It is much better to develop a passion first that someone would be willing to work toward to succeed. If the person has no specific interest or passion, working for a few years in variety of part-time jobs might be a better choice. I advise the younger generations not to attend university in the hope of using it as crutches to provide them with a promising future. University can aid a person in getting the right credits, but not create a great future one might be dreaming of. Hence, nobody should waste money on education without a previously created passion and plan for a future. Otherwise, ending up in mediocre job with a lot of student debt may be the only crushing reality one may be facing at graduation, instead of a realization of a great dream.
M. J. Mandoki