Just looking purely pragmatically, it is still worth getting a four-year college degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the higher the degree level, the lower the unemployment rate and the higher the median wages, with the exception of professional degrees garnering higher wages on average and lower unemployment than a Phd. The chart below shows the 2014 statistics:
More and more, however, I hear people, including former students and fellow educators, voice how working towards a four-year degree is virtually a waste of time and money. I couldn’t disagree more. Even if a person never works in her or his degree field, the skills, life experience and connections made will not only help a person be more employable at a higher rate of pay, but can also help that person be a better informed partner, parent and citizen.
Of course, any acquired skills must be applied. Those who feel entitled to work their dream job at a high rate of pay soon upon graduation are never likely to feel that their education was “worth” anything. Also, there are many who do not get four-year degrees who have meaningful, prosperous careers. I know because my husband is one of them, although his time in training is comparable to a four-year degree in many ways.
I, on the other hand, have worked in my major field of study, English education, for most of my career, yet I have had the experience of not being able to find a teaching job. It was when my husband John was receiving his ultrasound training at Aultman Hospital in Canton, Ohio. Before moving to Ohio I had applied, tested for and been granted a 8-12 English and German teaching certificate. I had spent most of my last year teaching at Armuchee and Coosa High Schools in Rome, Georgia, applying for teaching jobs without a single bite.
We had saved enough money that I didn’t have to work, but things were going to be pretty tight if I didn’t land at least a low-paying position. I did have one interview at a high school, and although I don’t remember much about it, I do remember getting the impression that this little ole southern gal didn’t have a snowball’s chance getting a teaching job in Canton.
So I started looking outside of the education arena into places where my writing and teaching skills might be of use-copy editor, day-care worker, teacher assistant, tutor, but nothing doing. Then, one day I was looking through the want ads and saw that there was a position open for a job trainer at Goodwill Industries, Inc. The ad said that a background in education was a plus, so I called and set up an interview.
The very nice man who interviewed me was the vocational rehabilitation coordinator, Marc Manheim. He asked me about my educational background and also was interested in what kind of work I did unrelated to my degree. My list was long: Day care worker, cafeteria line worker, custodian, groom and exercise girl at an Arabian horse farm, riding instructor, restaurant hostess, dishwasher and secretary. I got the job.
While my experience working in the service industry was invaluable, I found that my teaching skills were absolutely necessary to be successful in my work. As a job trainer I was required to work side by side with my clients, helping them do the job and keep up their rate of production as they were learning the job and then slowly back away and help the client become more and more self-sufficient until I was not needed any more.
As a result I found myself doing many of the tasks I did as a classroom teacher, including mastering the skills I was going to teach my clients, creating a daily plan (in essence a lesson plan), instructing my clients in the numerous skills needed for their work as well as social skills, assessing their progress and the effectiveness of my instruction, then altering my instructional methods and re-assessing.
Because of my experience and the experience of as many as one-third of college graduates according to one study, who do not get jobs in their major area, I can better advise my current students and encourage them to study what they love, learn how to work hard and apply what they learn, developing dedication and tenacity.
Do that and they won’t need to worry about getting a job. They will either find one, it will find them, or they will create one for themselves.