Rethinking the Four Year Degree

Education is going to be a hot button issue during this election cycle. The GOP will call President Obama an elitist for insisting the youth of America learn stuff. Liberals will yell that the real elitists are rich white kids who get into Harvard and Dartmouth on legacy merit alone while the poor and middle class try to compete. There is a degree of truth to both claims. College is important because it is a necessity. Having a high school diploma won’t cut the mustard but it will allow you to add mustard to any customer order of a burger and fries. Yet, as seemingly worthless as a high school diploma is, the four year college degree is hitting a similar rough patch. If you are smart enough or lucky enough to graduate Ivy League style, chances are you’re set up rather nicely for a cushy salary. But we’re not all Ivy Leaguers. And that’s the problem.

The education debate is likely to focus on the student loan crisis; the next economic bubble according to many experts. As someone who is still paying hers, I’m not one to argue with that assessment. Something needs to be done to lower the cost of education so that we can stay competitive in the jobs and fiscal marketplace. Unfortunately, our politically polarized government is unwilling to admit that both sides of the aisle have sound approaches.

President Obama was not being a snob when he announced his college initiatives during the State of the Union. He was being a realist. These days, a college education is a job-related must have. Only in American politics could pushing for college education be considered a wedge issue. But the emphasis needs to move away from the 4-year degree. My reasoning behind this is actually in line with the Republican mantra of personal responsibility.

I was 18 many years ago. I wanted to be a lawyer. Then I didn’t. I wanted to be an FBI agent. Then I didn’t. I wanted to be a writer. So I went the English degree route. The dreaded English degree; the education equivalent of vanilla yogurt. Sure, it’s a staple but it has no flavor. It doesn’t give you an edge in the jobs marketplace. It gives you access to a plethora of administrative jobs that, while necessary, aren’t exactly game-changers. And do you know whose fault that is – mine. Mine and the countless others out there that studied English or Literature or Gay and Lesbian Studies, or Pop Culture in college. Do you know who else is to blame? Parents who knew their kids were going down an aimless path but did nothing about it because they wanted them to have the full “college experience”.

The college experience is important. For all my whining, I wouldn’t change it. Thankfully, I’m a copywriter so I can more easily convince myself that the English degree was worth it. But college shouldn’t be a place for one-night stands and drinking alone. There has to be actual career training involved, too.

Kids, if you don’t know what you want to do with your life yet, delay college a few years until you figure it out. Parents, college is not about you. It’s about your money and realizing a solid return on your investment. Sending your kids off to school when they aren’t ready or to a 4-year school just so you can brag about it will produce a return – a negative return. Your kids will be back in your house asking you for money. Meanwhile, kids in China will continue laughing at us regardless of whether President Obama or Mitt Romney is in the White House.