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July 26, 2010


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I agree. Of course my situation may be unique. I got a job with the Federal Government about 2 years after graduating high school and have been at it ever since (almost 20 years). My wife, who is a teacher with a Masters Degree in Special Education, makes about $7,000 less than I do with no degree. Sure, I missed out on the "college life", but my motivation to learn has never ceased. And since I had responsible parents who instilled conservative fiscal principles in me, my wife and I have no debt except our mortgage.

When people ask me where I went to college I usually tell them, " I'm a proud graduate of the School of Hard Knocks", because frankly, there are just some life lessons you won't learn in the halls of higher education.

Agreed that a degree is better than no degree but caution people to not over pay for that degree. I have a degree in Agriculture (later went on to get an MBA) and work as a software analyst. No amount of experience would have gotten me this job without the degree as that is one of the first qualifications my company looks for.

I strongly believe any degree is better than no degree. My father and an uncle are two examples of this.

In the case of my father he graduated with a BA in biology and then went on to get a masters degree in zoology. He had no idea what he wanted to do after school; he just liked going to school and thought the subjects were interesting. Once he graduated he found that ATT was hiring - and they PAID him to get trained! (It was the late 70's when telecom professionals were actually hard to find). All that being said, I do not think he would have been able to get the job without a degree.

On the other hand is my uncle. He went to work for the State of New York immediately out of high school. He took lots of different tests so he could go up the ranks. However at one point in his career he applied for a promotion and did not receive it. My uncle and one other person were in the running for the job. Even though my uncle had much more experience and was more qualified for the job, the other person had a degree so they got the job. It is not necessarily fair but that is how it works sometimes.

One final note - if someone is planning to be self-employed I do not think they necessarily need a degree. You can do that mostly by teaching yourself in whatever field you go into (there are exceptions of course, such as a CPA).

I've not known anyone whose situation has been harmed by having a degree. All that's left is in the judicious management of student loans.

I occasionally hire others in the workplace. I try not to hire anyone with only a high school education.

In the US, where long-term trends are pushing the best pay to jobs where you use your minds and not your hands, it is always better to have a degree.

I work in a workplace that is split between a small number of professional, college and mostly master's-level educated staff and a larger number of hourly workers, many with a high school education or less, though some also have college degrees.

We have to make a variety of decisions with input from both groups, and it is frustrating sometimes to present a whole bunch of analysis and data about a phenomena in our business and why we should do X instead of Y, and have a few of those with high school educations respond with hunches, guesses, and "I had a customer 2 years ago that said Y would be better." It is rare we make a decision without a six-figure consequence, so this is not about thumbing our noses at those with lower levels of education, it is about real money for the company.

When one of them adds, "I have had 16 customers in the last 3 months say Y would be better, and I've kept a log listing their reasons why," we stop immediately and review their data. But that rarely happens.

In short, I believe that at least in my neck of the woods, high school only education leaves people with too weak of an understanding of the scientific method for my workplace, and furthermore, usually means the person is a poor writer and communicator of business decisions.

So yes, go get a degree. Study hard. And do manage your debt well.

I do agree that any degree is better than no degree. However, I think it is more important to have a 'valuable' degree now that it was 20 years ago when I graduated. With global competition and such, the market is a lot more competitive, and I am not sure that companies are as willing to go with hiring people with 'any' degree versus what they may really want now. Companies have the upper hand now, and prospective employees have to be able to compete.

What about individuals like Bill Gates and Peter Jennings? They do not have a degree and seem to understand trends, data, and are able to communicate quite well. A degree demonstates an ability to learn however experience demonstrates proven ability for application. I agree get a degree if you do not have to get in debt(no debt). It is sad to start your career with thousands of dollars in debt.

I think a degree is definitely better than no degree. While a degree won't necessarily guarantee success, not having one will definitely close a lot of doors for you.

Education and a degree are related, but not interchangeable. Ultimately, it's your network. Earning a degree proves that you are educatable and gives you the chance to develop your network to take you furthest in your career.

Leaving aside professional studies (law, medicine, accounting) I suspect that most people's college majors bear little resemblance to the work they are doing day-to-day throughout their lives. My degrees are biology & computer science. My field is Finance, after eight years in broadcasting.

I think a degree is better than no degree unless you have a clear plan on why college isn't necessary for you specifically.

My thinking behind this is that most business jobs won't even let you interview without a degree. I have a marketing degree but work with forms and customer service...they didn't care what degree I had but I had to have one. My husband has a political science degree but became a science teacher...he had to have a degree to take the alternative certification courses. He also is 2 weeks away from his Masters degree in Librarian Science because that is required to be a librarian in Texas...a prerequisite was any degree.

Also, my MIL was pretty much forced into retirement from her 30 year service with a phone company, but since she didn't have a degree, she gets WAY underpaid in the job she found even though her experience is priceless. She made sure my husband knew that he better get a college degree before even thinking of entering the work force...

Yes having a degree is generally better than no degree as far as employability. If you look at 2 equal resumes and one has a degree and the other doesn't you'll generally hire the person with the degree. But I don't know if its always necessarily worth 4 years of your life. Sure you can get maybe secretary jobs easier with a degree but I wouldn't spend 4 years just to be a more easily employed secretary. And I wouldn't over pay for a degree in any case.

Simply having any old degree doesn't necessarily get you more pay or better jobs. A friend of mine with a history degree has seen absolutely no financial benefit from it and never worked for over $10 an hour.

One point to make in relation to Pete's posting at 10:20: demographics show that smoking rates are highest in the under educated, and lower for those with college degrees.
The late Peter Jennings (you referred to him in the present tense, but he died a couple years ago) did not have a college degree, and it was likely his smoking that contributed to an early death of lung cancer. Perhaps unrelated to the gist of the OP, but still something consider.

It is important to have a college degree, if only (as Mike commented) because not having one closes a lot of doors to you. You need a degree even to be a bank teller making $15k-$20k a year. That said, having the 4 year degree is more important than where it comes from after you have been out of school for a year or two. The specific major matters only if you are trying to pursue a technical field where you need the underlying data contained within that field of study to be able to perform the job functions.

There are a number of different ways to pursue getting the 4 year degree that can be less expensive. One option students around here have been using is to take classes at the local (very good) community college until they have about two years of credits, then transferring those credits to the state school. Many of the classes are designed as eligible for credit at both places, so credit transfers aren't an issue. This costs a lot less, but still provides the degree from a 4-year institution.

Another option for people who want to be nurses is to get a two year LPN at the community college, and work for about a year making sure this is really what they want rather than jumping stright into the RN program. If they like nursing as an LPN then they both have some work experience and only need to take the last two years to get the RN degree from a 4-year nursing school. If it is NOT what they want, then they still have a job and can look around while they figure out a better option, and they aren't saddled with a larger debt.

While there are rare people who don't need the 4-year degree because they are starting their own very successful company, most of us end up wanting to be hired by somebody else. Without that degree, you usually can't get through the first pass of resume reviews.

@MrAtoZ @ 1:52. Good point. I'd just add I think college degrees are held as proxy indicators for a lot of other things like work ethic, ability to write clearly, healthier lifestyle habits (like smoking & not being overweight), & better social skills. On average, college grads do better by these measures than non college grads. It's not completely fair because there are a fair number of exceptions to the rule. But that's life.

Pete- Peter Jennings and Bill Gates are two people who are super-achievers in their fields, respectively. There is only one Bill Gates in terms of business impact in the way he made it, and Jennings has few peers in media. Lest we forget, Gates was also a Harvard dropout who scored 1590/1600 on the SAT. He was the rarest of high school graduates.

My business employs your quotidian high school-only graduate. I see dozens of them come through our business and most of them, even in their 40s and 50s, cannot reason or communicate effectively as our recent post-collegiate hires, and their writing is often painful to read.

And yes, they do have a far higher incidence of smoking than our professional staff. Our HR team works hard helping them quit.

It all depends on your career or profession. It would be hard to get a job in the medical,engineering,accounting etc. with out a degree in that field.

An associates degree would be good to get you the skills necessary to work in any field which I feel is necessary in most cases. Plus it is a building block to most degrees.

I have a problem with useless degrees. You know the ones where someone goes for 4 years and can not find a job and they are in debt up to there eyeballs.

Like that woman who was 100K in debt and could not find a job in her degree of women's studies. DUH. There is proably limited positions available in the whole US that meet her qualification of study and they probably will never pay her enough to eliminate her debt.

I see education as the next bubble in finacial system. People can not go into so much debt for a degree and never use what they were trained for.

It's a great discussion. In general, I do think a degree is better than no degree. Why? A college degree gives you more than education. It teaches discipline, communication, teamwork (in some cases) and much more. While I did a lot of immature things in school, I still matured and was more prepared for the working world.

Today, I might do things differently. Yes, I had college debt when graduating, although a soccer scholarship helped. But, if I knew then what I know now I might have worked more in school to minimize my debt situation.

For those who don't have college savings, or no opportunity for a scholarship I strongly starting off slow (perhaps in a 2 year college) and work some to minimize cost. Having trouble deciding what degree to get? You can use a business degree in any field. Yes, even medicine.

One piece of advice that's often mentioned as a way to save money is going to a community college and then transferring to a state college/university. I'm sure this works sometimes, but I think it's often a bad idea. Many times the college misleads or outright lies about which credits will transfer. Then you have the human nature problem....whenever you introduce an extra step, you increase the chance that the student is going to drop out. This may sound prejudiced, but I don't think a lot of people going to community college are that focused, so when you introduce that extra step, they drop out.

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