What is the real value of a college degree? Is the value what you learn in school? Obviously the value of a degree has traditionally been seen as the education you obtain. However, recent research seems to indicate that there is not a good matchup between the skills learned in college and the skills used on the job. Many employers are complaining that this dooms they get from even top name universities don’t come with the skills they need to be effective at their job.
If this is the case then why go to college? If this is the case then why should employers even look at college graduates? When they be better off looking for bright kids out of high school and simply training them–to go that’s what they are going to have to do with college students to.
Many economists feel that the value of college is not so much the education but more of the signaling that it provides to potential employers. In other words the actual educational process of college doesn’t matter–it’s the perceived value that it sends to potential employers. Part of this could be the idea that it tells employers that you know how to show up on time with a moderately complicated schedule for four years. In other words college shows that you are going to show up for work. This “signaling theory” basically indicates that it doesn’t matter so much what you studying college as it matters that you went to college in the first place. The idea is that you simply need to have a college degree in order to get in the door. In other words potential employees are going to use a college degree or lack thereof as their first level of the vetting process. If you don’t have a college degree that not even going to bother to interview you.
In many ways this may make sense. If you don’t even have a college degree–given how easy it is to get a college degree these days–it might indicate that there’s something wrong with you that would make you a poor employee. On the other hand, if there is very little educational value in going to college and you’re going to need to learn everything on your own anyway, why spend the four years and accumulate all but that necessary to go to college. You’d be at better off starting with the company at a lower wage and learning everything you need to know there.
There are companies that recognize this and are trying to start programs in order to hire kids out of high school while avoiding traditional college graduates. They expect to put money into training people but find it better to take a high school grad and teach them what they need to know to start with a college grad who will expect a higher salary and run them through the same training program.
This represents a significant shift in the way that we perceive college in the value of an education. In many ways the thing that is driving the shift in the lowering of standards in college and an increased mentality that everyone should get a degree. Assuming that everyone is capable of getting a college degree does not help the masses of individuals. The only thing it doesn’t lower the standards of our educational institutions which further drive down the value of a college degree. As the value of a college degree decreases they become easier and easier to obtain. Employers recognize this by requiring degrees for more and more jobs. This is because the jobs necessarily require degrees but because the only individuals who are going to college are those who cannot pass the relatively low bar established I college entrance requirements or who do not have enough self-discipline to show up to class.
To further complicate things tuition rates are skyrocketing. Colleges may be easier to get into from an academic standpoint but they are becoming more and more expensive. To compensate for this the government allows people to go into debt in order to pay for their college education because colleges traditionally been a good way to get a good job. This mentality is reinforced because employers aren’t even interviewing people without their college degree. This makes the government feel that college degrees are even more important to get a job and make it easier for people to get into debt to get their college degree.
The cycle continues and people spend large sums of money on education that doesn’t help them in their career but is necessary in order to get in the door in order to get an interview for a job in the first place.
Companies that create a good internal educational program and target smart high school students are going to see a lot of benefit. They’ll end up with well-trained employees who aren’t under mountains of debt. They’ll be able to capture young employees who are able to work long hours and willing to put the effort into their job that they would normally put into their college career.