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Debate: College Degree or Work Experience?


My husband and I have always enjoyed watching shows like Jeopardy, Trivia, Are you Smarter Than a 5th Grader…. We’ve both endured our share of criticism and disdain for having both graduated from home school and not going on to pursue a college education.

There is a generation-old debate questioning the value of a college degree vs. work experience. The popular opinion is that with a college degree, you’ll make more money. Good thing, you’ll be paying it off for years after you get it. With a college degree, you’ve “proven you had the gumption to get through rigorous classes and learning.” Really? My friend in her Junior year was obligated to take a full class on the capitols of the U.S. states. You’re more likely to get the job you want. Not always the case. Another friend of mine got through her $40,000 education at a renowned school and was unable to pursue a career for months past graduation because additional certifications (which cost additional $, of course) were required by any hiring company for her field.

I won’t get into how I’ve shown numerous college graduates how to use a fax machine. Face down, push button. No, no, the button that says “send.” Yeah. Moving on.

Don’t even get me started on the scam of college textbooks. You usually have to buy them new for hundreds of dollars, because each year they’re updated and the teachers require the most updated version. Then when you’re done with the book, they might give you $10 – $20 for your $500 book because guess what, it’s either about to be or already is outdated. Parking permits, fitness center maintenance fees, and the list of little expenses goes on….

Honestly, the older I get and the more people I deal with, the more I find that whether or not someone has a dusty frame displaying a signed piece of paper, it’s not college that makes them smarter or wiser. My dad always said “there’s no such thing as common sense; if it was common, we wouldn’t keep hearing how no one has it.” I don’t quite agree – there is such a thing as common sense. The theory is, though, that going to college isn’t what gives it to you.

What does?

Manners. Simply put, etiquette. Knowing not to lick your fingers before grabbing popcorn from the communal bowl (think Seinfeld…George…double-dip…) and knowing not to blow your nose at the table. Knowing who to introduce first and knowing it’s impolite to show up for any invited gathering without some small token of appreciation. Knowing not to eat while in a buffet line and to excuse yourself to answer your cell phone. Decent courtesy. Sure, some of Emily Post’s directives are outdated but some of them are outdated only because few continue to utilize them! I’m not saying we should all be stiff and formal at the family dinner table – I’m saying that we should know HOW to be without blemish when in the company of our peers and yes, our betters. One should be able to carry on pleasant conversation with a Queen or President as well as a butler or housemaid.

Learning. Knowledge is of little use without an insatiable desire to continue on a path of learning. The common frustration I encounter with “graduated college attendees” is that a great majority seem to think they’ve arrived at the plateau of a world called Great Knowledge. Unfortunately, the one who finds himself to have “arrived” at the end-all of learning has shown himself to be utterly devoid of understanding the importance of true knowledge which is, namely, that one never has learned enough.

Knowing. Not to be confused with corresponding necessity knowledge, knowing is basically wisdom. Knowing when to shut up. Knowing when to speak up. Knowing when to laugh. Knowing when not to laugh. Knowing when a conversation has gone too long. Knowing what to say when it hasn’t. Knowing who to embrace. Knowing who not to embrace. Knowing when to give up. Knowing when to fight. You get the picture. Is this easy? If it was, wouldn’t we all be the perfect witty and sentimental of conversationalists? Aye, it is NOT easy – but it is attainable. My honest opinion is that we simply do not think through situations beforehand enough – we don’t know what or how to say it when we are in the situation because we have not prepared ourselves for it. This is how you get running-at-the-mouth boors at a funeral and giddy giggling girls gushing drivel at a wedding. The book How to Say It is great for knowing what to say in situations. Wisdom to know what to say in what situation comes with contemplation and reflection.

Determining to be Indispensable. College degree or not, everyone who wants to be useful and appreciated in life must learn to be indispensable to those around them or they will become…dispensable. A tragic way to muddle through life.

What is my point? College can be useful. College can be useless. In the real world, it is the mind, the will and who you know that get you places. A piece of paper can help…or be just that. Personally, I’m glad I saved the money.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Zach Smith permalink
    11/20/2010 4:05 pm

    I have a problem with this article in that it presents its debate in dichotomous terms. One point I’ll bring up is that “you’ll be paying it off for years after you get it” is not universally applicable; scholarships abound for the gifted. Of course, opportunity costs would still be a factor. But even so, the whole “paying it off for years” is hardly universally relevant. Not making suc a careless, dichotomous remark would benefit an article on education vs. experience.

    P.S., I’d also like to vent for a moment. During my first year of college, I also “endured my share of criticism” for having been home schooled. However, the criticisms had a foundation: My communication skills, in both writing and speaking, were lacking. Please do not irrelevantly retort that not all who were home schooled are so. After my first year, however, I was as academically competent as the rest. However, now that I’m returning to college as a science major, I again am faced with the science/math opportunities that my high school education lacked. Please be sensitive to the struggles of us who are burdened with our education’s inadequacies, though I know that you’re not claiming that the average home education prepares students’ science as much as an elite private school.

    • 12/01/2010 10:56 pm

      I know very few who have ever gotten scholarships or MUCH of a scholarship. The gifted are few and far between. Most of the people I know my age who have graduated with a degree have over $20-40,000 in loans. Even HOPE doesn’t pay for everything for all years. It may not be universally relevant but again, there are far greater a number paying off student loans than aren’t.

      By no means was I attempting to demean the need for college in some instances (particularly in law, science, medicine, engineering, etc.). My main beef is with college graduates who come out waving a piece of paper that says they’re going to make better business decisions while their work ethic, manners and demeanor are that of a troglodyte.

      The attempt of this discussion was to bring to light not that no one ever needs college, but that manners, work ethic, etc. are more important to everyone in general than just a degree.

      • 12/01/2010 10:58 pm

        Quoting the final paragraph which is intended to be the foremost contemplation derived from this post:

        “College can be useful. College can be useless. In the real world, it is the mind, the will and who you know that get you places. A piece of paper can help…or be just that. Personally, I’m glad I saved the money.”

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