What would you say to someone who thinks education doesn’t matter, or that college is a waste of time and money?

Topic: “What would you say to someone who thinks education doesn’t matter, or that college is a waste of time and money?” (250 words or less)

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As a college professor – even as a historian – I meet former students all the time who have come back to tell their professors how a B.A. in history was a game-changer for them even in what may seem like totally unrelated fields. Most of these people have good jobs and make good money; they certainly make more than I do. And, given the cost of an education at my institution, they’ve also received very good value for money. Even for something normally deemed “worthless,” like a history degree. Why is this?

To begin with, a university education can’t be thought of solely in terms of degree = job = specific kind of income / lifestyle. Nothing works that way. All a degree is, really, is a hunting license: it clears you to go out there and engage in the pursuit of happiness. Note, however, this will require additional effort on your part. No degree, alone, gets you a job unless you’re just “qualifying” so that your uncle’s firm can hire you. That’s a different story, and pretty rare these days.

Without a degree, you’re engaging in the pursuit of subsistence… and that only barely.

Blue collar workers *can* earn good money, but even they need to be in a licensed trade to break out of the minimum wage rut. Good, solid working class jobs with union-guaranteed representation and benefits are disappearing fast. In fact, the writing is on the wall for the old industrial economy of your grandparents’ day. Wake up and smell the globalization. And get an education. Why? Because higher education makes you flexible, and it teaches you how to teach yourself, ideally. In the future, we’re all going to need these skills. And the blue-collar workers of the near future may well be technicians with an M.S. In fact, we may start seeing community colleges offering these kinds of programs to help today’s factory workers “retool” for the future economy.

College is not just about your degree program; it’s actually a much larger package – or it’s supposed to be – designed to provide you with a broad range of knowledge and skills, as well as social and intellectual polish, that will be of use no matter what you do in life. Now, more than ever, kids need all of this, and especially the social polish. Trust me, students at private colleges all get a lot of this – it is, in fact, the primary “value” of elite, private schools. Unfortunately, the media makes it look as if you can be wildly successful by being confident, brash, and / or tough – tough, that is, in the very negative sense of simply stubborn. In fact, in the real world knowledge and skill and social graces still matter for the vast majority of people.

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