Careers

College: Go, No-Go and Outcomes

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I realize that the purpose of this blog is to discuss topics related to college and college admissions. However, I’ve been hearing a lot of discussion lately about the extremely high cost of college and the related miseries of student loan debt. Accordingly, people have asked me if, indeed, the overwhelming majority of high school seniors should go to college. That’s an issue that deserves serious consideration.

I did some research and found a ton of articles that speak, generally, to the topic of “Should everyone go to college?” One particularly pertinent article comes from Slate.com, entitled “Kid, I’m Sorry, but You’re Just Not College Material.” If you have a chance to read it, I think you’ll begin to see that there are viable alternatives to a four-year college degree.


Years ago, I posted a thread on the College Confidential discussion forum about this topic and it generated a lot of feedback, some of which may be of interest to you, especially if you’re a parent wondering about this question for your child, or if you’re a high school junior wondering about where your path may lead after you graduate. The issue has been on the minds of students and parents for many years.

If you would like to compare your thoughts about this important question with those of others, check the comments on that vintage CC thread. Here are some interesting responses from forum posters there:

- I don't agree with the idea that "everyone needs to be sent off to college." America was always a nation of opportunity, and I support the goal of making a college education available to everyone. If a person truly wants to go, then they should be able to pursue that path.

On the other hand, there are many students who go due to peer pressure/parent influence or whatever, but have no need to. They're not motivated to go to college, and many careers don't require a degree. I don't like the prevailing notion that college is essential to success in any field, because it's not true. These kids are the ones who don't graduate and are hurt in the long run because of it.

- In the future, I think we'll see the rise in prominence of technical schools. People go, do what they love, learn what they need to and live good lives. If you don't want a liberal arts education, you shouldn't be forced or pressured into getting one. If you do want one, then the opportunity is there.

- I agree, and my dad says this all the time, college is a waste of time for most people who go.

- How many times have we heard the line that a liberal arts education gives you the ability to think critically, therefore you are more flexible in the job market? Is it better to send kids off to a technical school to learn a specialized trade that may be obsolete in 10 years, or would you rather have that kid learn how to think, speak, write logically, learn math and science and a foreign language in a global job market?

Where I live, many apprentice programs are taking on kids with degrees because they find the best workers are able to think on their feet. Maybe if we retooled the high school education so it prepared the average person to be successful in the job market, then college would once again be for the intellectuals. I don't see America going back to a manufacturing economy, so we need the next generation to be able to use their collective knowledge to come up with creative solutions.

- The problem is not the US tertiary education system but the US primary and secondary education systems. US children spend at least 10 years in these two systems doing what exactly? Some seem to be learning while many just seem to move along a conveyor belt.

At the primary and secondary level is where children and adolescents should be taught the basics and fundamentals our society requires of people to function properly. Instead, it seems primary and secondary education are no more than "college admissions preparation." The last two years of secondary education may be used to offer students a menu of options where they can explore possible paths towards professional and personal growth.

- Professional careers, such as law and medicine, should be "detached" from academia (e.g., one should not have to go through four years of undergrad and debt to study law). Vocational careers should receive more societal support (e.g. not categorized as "low class" professions). Finally, academia should be once again treated as what is supposed to be: A place where academicians and scholars can develop new ideas and theories without the risk of harming society (e.g., intellectuals in their ivory towers believing their untested ideas will uplift society).

Interesting points, and there are many more in that thread. Check it out.

Looking at the Pro-College View

Shifting gears a bit to a related, pro-college area, let’s take a look at the kinds of incomes certain college graduates are earning today. In my work as an independent college admissions counselor, I can say without doubt that the number one reason high schoolers want to go to college is to get a job that pays enough to support the standard of living they desire. Of course, this is almost always what parents want for their children -- that and the practical secondary reason of being able to get them out of the house!

I’ve cited the research of Zippia.com in my past articles. The researchers there have a knack for finding the type of information that doesn’t appear elsewhere. Thus, in keeping with the “go to college and find a good job that pays well” school of thought, which relates to our discussion of College: To go or not to go, I was intrigued by Zippia’s latest findings about Small Colleges With The Highest Earning Graduates.

This information relates to a question within the pro-college audience: Should I go to a big state university or to a smaller school? The results of this survey are surprising. Let’s take a look.

First of all, here’s how the survey was produced, as explained by researcher, McLeod Brown:

Using the most recent College Scorecard data, we looked at the school in each state with the highest average earners 10 years after entry. …

… Lucky for us, data was available for schools in every state, leading us to rank the colleges.

We also only focused on four-year institutions, so no community colleges were included in the study. ...

So, right off, here are the top 10 small colleges with the highest earning graduates:

  1. University of Maryland Baltimore – Maryland
  2. Brown University – Rhode Island
  3. Harvey Mudd College – California
  4. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center – Texas
  5. Amherst College – Massachusetts
  6. Lafayette College – Pennsylvania
  7. Helene Fuld College of Nursing – New York
  8. Bates College – Maine
  9. Carleton College – Minnesota
  10. Saint Luke’s College of Health Sciences – Missouri

If you’re not actively involved in the world of higher education, there may be some unfamiliar names on that list. Once again, we’re reminded about our own perceptions (more appropriately, our misconceptions) about colleges and earnings.

The survey continues with details of the top 10. Here are the details from Numbers one, five and 10:

1. Maryland

College: University of Maryland Baltimore

City: Baltimore

Average earnings: $102,900

With its average graduate making six figures 10 years after entry (more than $15,000 more than the second-ranked school on our list), the University of Maryland Baltimore has a stranglehold on the number one spot. The institution houses schools of medicine, law and nursing, among others, offering students multiple paths to high income careers.

5. Massachusetts

College: Amherst College

City: Amherst

Average earnings: $82,000

Not Harvard. Not MIT. The school with the highest earning grads in Massachusetts? Amherst College, come on down! A liberal arts institution, the school only has around 2,000 undergrads, but each is offered the chance at an honest, solid education, evidenced by the average grad raking in $82k.

10. Missouri

College: Saint Luke’s College of Health Sciences

City: Kansas City

Average earnings: $64,700

A nursing school located in the metropolis of Kansas City, Saint Luke’s College of Health Sciences rounds out our top 10 list. With the average grad bringing in just south of $65k, graduates of the program have the distinction of being the highest earners in The Show-Me State. 

Following the Top 10’s details, you’ll find a complete listing of all 50 states and the small school in each with the highest earning graduates. Very interesting information.

So, looking back at deciding between college and alternatives, what can we say? As with many of life’s decisions, the answer is “it depends.” Speaking from a personal perspective, I have to say that, in my view, getting a college degree cannot be detrimental to one’s future. However, if the process and experience of an undergraduate education becomes acutely stressful or induces feelings of irrelevance, apathy or indifference, then I think an alternative route to a life’s work is needed.

Essentially, it all comes down to knowing who you are and how you think. These two aspects of personal identity are directly related to personality type and temperament. That’s a topic for another day. Think about which path you want your life to take and how best to realize happiness and success in what you’ll be doing. That should keep you busy enough for now!