It’s a commonly held belief that being successful is contingent on obtaining a degree. Yet “college isn’t for everyone” is a ubiquitous American mantra, and many successful people have done quite well with just a high-school diploma. But in the current economy, do college graduates have an indisputable advantage?
Terrell Halaska and Kristin Conklin, founding partners of the education and health-care policy group HCM Strategists, wrote an article for Good magazine called “Why College Really Is For Everyone.” Synthesizing reports from Complete College America, the Bureau of Labor, and the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, the authors restate the old claim that if Americans want jobs, they need to go to class:
By 2018, 64 percent of all new jobs will require some form of college, according to exhaustive research conducted by Anthony Carnevale at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. The biggest share of jobs—28 percent—will require either an associate’s degree or some form of college; 23 percent will require a bachelor’s degree and 10 percent will need graduate degrees.
Above all industries, health care will drive this surge in education requirement. With over 30 million new health-care customers in the new system, the industry will require millions of college graduates.
The authors conclude,
If we care about the future prospects of our nation’s economy and its people’s potential to advance, we must embrace the wide range of degrees our higher education system offers. As a matter of degrees, college really is for everyone.
They make a convincing, earnest argument, flooded with daunting statistics. They make the formula simple: More people in college = more degrees = more employment = better economy.
But is the purpose of higher education to solve an economic formula? Should you attend college for the sake of being able to earn more money in certain career fields, or in newly created jobs?
If the country swore by Halaska and Conklin’s ideal, some industries may improve. But there’s no way to tell if we’d have a happier country. The need for educated health-care workers has spiked, for example, but have we seen the same rise in graduates’ wanting to enter that field?
The United States still has hundreds of career fields, many of which require no college education—and many of them lucrative. Millions of citizens still aspire to be firefighters and policemen and entrepreneurs and filmmakers—jobs beneficial to the fortitude and economy of the country.
We could amend the mantra from “College isn’t for everyone” to “College is for anyone who wants a job that requires a college degree.” Even so, a degree never guarantees a job. Many employers look less at an applicant’s degrees and more at his character, previous experience in the work field, and—here’s the rub—his connections.
For Halaska and Conklin, college is diluted into a money-making mechanism. The benefits of a college education are many, it’s true. But for some people, there are more—and better—choices out there.