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Is College Worth It?

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There have been many recent national news stories and opinions written questioning if college is worth it.

With the economy being as it is, college graduates are finding it more difficult to find jobs. That compounded with the cost of college being over three and a half times was it was thirty years ago, the value of college is understandably in question. Moreover, a recent study found that about 1/3 of people who graduated college had no more analytical abilities than before they started college. But this also means that 2/3 of people were more analytical. There is more than enough research supporting the benefits of college. But some still rightly question its utility. Let's consider this concern.

For some, the point of college is nothing more than what logically comes next after high school. For others it is necessary to get specific skills such as being a nurse, engineer or an accountant. If I am going to hire someone who provides any of the skills one of these professionals provide, all other things being equal, I want that person to have gone to college.

A quick Google search will turn up various lists of examples of millionaires and even billionaires who dropped out of college, and even high school. But what you won't find is a list of college dropouts who are homeless or who are in prison. This is not to say that there are no college graduates who are homeless or college graduates don't go to prison, some do, but there is a pretty strong relationship between the quality of life, income, and one's options in life with educational achievement.

In my time as an undergraduate and a graduate student, I've had a few professors who go through the motions of teaching. But overwhelmingly, I've had professors who teach analytical skills, who teach hard skills, and who don't give out A's but do give out lots of critical feedback on how a paper wasn't as good as it could have been.

In my last semester of graduate school, I had one professor actually challenge our class to tell him where he was wrong on a particular issue and defend our alternative position - this is clearly a professor who wanted us to break out of conformity and find our own voice. I've also had professors wanted students to be able to articulate the narrative that they presented. There is a time for both approaches; the wise student knows the difference.

Someone I've known for a long time has no experience or education in criminal justice, criminology or anything of the sort. Yet she is supremely confident that her solutions would be more effective than mine; my opinion comes from both a relevant education and relevant experience on the matter. What this person doesn't appreciate is that her so-called solutions have been tried, tested and failed. A good education teaches one how to think critically about complex subjects, but also to know a fair amount of what has worked and what hasn't. There is a certain arrogance to outright dismiss the manner in which education helps guide experience. It is also arrogant to suggest that education is all one needs.

Stories of successful people skipping the whole college thing are a danger. The danger is that following in such a person's footsteps doesn't mean that one will find enlightenment; in fact one is missing out on an opportunity to learn the successes and failures of others.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this notion that we might not need college is that we may develop subcultures in our society that shun education. One doesn't necessarily have to go to college to be educated, but having people (teachers and students) who have thought about, tested and confirmed ideas about challenging issues in a critical ways, certainly helps others understand at a deeper level various issues than without their guidance. I've put my money on the collective body of knowledge that colleges offer rather than rogue elements who pooh-pooh any advanced study in favor of their own untested opinions on various matters.

There is a phrase in Latin, Ad Verecundam, which is an appeal to an unqualified authority. This is like saying because Jim went to college he is educated and knows what he is talking about in terms of crime policy. What if Jim has a degree in engineering? College won't make anyone an expert on everything; and smart person knows when to say "I don't know, but I will try to find out or ask someone who knows." Spending too much time alone creating arguments and counters to arguments is a quick way to lose all sense of perspective. College classrooms are good testing grounds for ideas.

In my experience, college had a way of keeping me humble; the more I learned the more I realize there is a lot more I don't know.

College isn't for everyone and being an educated person doesn't necessarily mean that you went to college.

At the end of the day, you get out of college what you put into it.