Does Education Still Matter? Yes and No

by | Apr 9, 2012 | General Career Advice

Does Education Still Matter? Yes and NoToday, I’d like to address the age-old question of education and employment. What’s the correlation? And, given today’s economy, how much does education matter?

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t perfectly clear.

I hear from a lot of people who are unemployed or underemployed, and they always want to know: Should I take advantage of this time by going back to school?

My answer, again, is usually pretty vague: It depends.

I know what you’re thinking: “Okay, Chrissy. Seriously. Why am I reading this article if you aren’t going to provide any solid, clear-cut answers?”

I hear you. So let me provide a little context:

Most of you have probably heard this often-cited statistic regarding income: For every year of higher education you receive, you can expect to earn an additional $10,000 in annual salary.

Sounds pretty good, right?

The U.S. Census Bureau has released data supporting this theory:

Workers 18 and over sporting bachelors degrees earn an average of $51,206 a year, while those with a high school diploma earn $27,915. But wait, there’s more. Workers with an advanced degree make an average of $74,602, and those without a high school diploma average $18,734.

Fair enough. But let’s not forget that college costs money.  The New York Times reported that the average college debt at graduation was $24,000 in 2009.

So, the added income comes with a price tag of its own. But surely that degree will practically guarantee your employment, right?

In 2010, CNN reported that 85% of recent college grads moved back in with their parents due to employment woes.

Research shows that, back in the 1990s, a college degree was a great shield from unemployment. Those with higher education were practically immune! These days, while not completely immune to it, college graduates do still have a significantly lower unemployment rate. According to the Huffington Post:

The unemployment rate of college graduates who are at least 25 years old is just 4.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In contrast, 13.8 percent of high school dropouts, 8.7 percent of high school graduates, and 7.7 percent of college dropouts are unemployed.

So clearly, having a degree reduces your chance of unemployment dramatically. However, according to that same Huffington Post article, “College graduates and advanced degree holders, once they are unemployed, are as vulnerable as high school dropouts to long-term joblessness, a new study has found.”

All of this information yields one conclusion: There’s no easy answer.

Yes, a college degree is helpful on many levels, but it’s no guarantee. It’s an investment of time and money and (hopefully) it will pay off in the log-run. Most employers, when choosing between two candidates with equal experience, will opt for the one with higher education…much of the time, but not always.

All that being said, I have my own feelings about college degrees. Personally, I have a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and Marketing. But I can tell you this: When I graduated from college, I knew very, VERY little about the real world of business and even less about the real world of marketing.

A college degree rarely teaches what you need to know for actually doing the job. What it DOES teach you is patience, hard work, and persistence. It proves you’re able to commit to something. It shows you know how to play the game, follow the rules and finish what you start, even when it’s hard. These are the qualities employers are looking for. And these are the qualities that will serve you well in any career.

But you still have a lot to learn. Your degree doesn’t really mean you know more than the next guy. Experience is often more valuable in learning the nitty-gritty, practical, everyday operations of your chosen career path.

So keep a realistic perspective about it. Don’t go into it thinking that college will change everything. Don’t convince yourself that a degree makes you invincible.

I know you have thoughts on this! Share them in the comments.

Photo Credit: Charline Tetiyevsky (Flickr)

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About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and certified Professional Career Manager (PCM). She is an author, in-demand presenter and international speaker known for engaging, entertaining, educating and empowering audiences of all sizes and backgrounds. Learn more here.

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