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For many high school students, they know the plan that is expected of them. Once they graduate, they are supposed to attend a four-year university or a community college with plans to transfer. They may even have their sights set on a grad school after their college graduation. However, more and more students today are beginning to question this chain of events. With tuition costs rising exponentially, teenagers and their parents want to know, now more than ever, if college is even worth the tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of dollars it ends up costing. With such a tremendous amount of money on the line, many students are forced to choose a major based on salary instead of passion, just so that they can pay back their student loans.
Other students choose to simply go to trade school to avoid the seemingly unnecessary general education requirements imposed by most college curriculums. However, there is still value in studying passions, taking classes out of interest, and sitting in physical classrooms. College tuition pays for tangible skills, yes, but it also provides many priceless experiences and lessons. Earning a college degree is often thought of as the logical path to a lucrative career, but a college education also results in lifelong improvements in societal interactions.
By investing in a college education, students usually earn more money and have more employment options than workers who only received a high school diploma. This is currently the most common, and convincing, reason students cite for deciding to attend college. While most people assume a bachelor’s degree is needed to take advantage of these benefits, just finishing community college is enough to make a difference. In his article, “There Are Economic Benefits from Obtaining a College Degree,” Jonathan Rothwell notes that “Among the employed, the median college educated worker earns 84 percent more than the median worker with only a high school education. Even those with just some college and no degree or an associate’s degree earn 16 percent more.” People also commonly think that a college education only helps graduates earn more money, but Rothwell additionally points out that it is much easier to find any job in general after obtaining a degree. His data goes to show that even with exorbitant tuition fees and record-high student debt, college still pays off in the long run. This economic profit not only benefits the individual, but is good for society as a whole. If more people become college-educated, more people will make more money and have the ability to add more money into the economy. In addition, the most successful companies that create more jobs and help the nation’s economy were most often founded by college-educated entrepreneurs (Rothwell). This is one of the many reasons that an educated population is advantageous for a country. So, although the current generation might be easily swayed into thinking that college costs are too high now to ever be outweighed by lifetime salary, research shows that getting that degree is still one of the smartest investments one can make.
Attending college fosters growth in many ways, leading to better communication, time management, and critical thinking skills. Too often, students only measure the value of their college classes by the information they are taught which strictly pertains to their preferred career. What they fail to see is the life skills they learn throughout all college classes, whether English, math, or history. Taking classes with such rigor and high expectations as in college courses teach skills that, while not specific to a field, are absolutely necessary in any career and in life. In explaining the importance of college in “No, It Doesn’t Matter What You Majored In,” Carlo Rotella lists some of these skills that are learned simply from succeeding in a difficult class: “You can assimilate and organize large, complex bodies of information; you can analyze that information to create outcomes that have value to others; and you can express your ideas in clear, purposeful language.” Just attending a couple of college courses puts one ahead of a high schooler in their improved ability to analyze and organize. Taking an introductory English class does not just fill a writing requirement, but teaches a student how to communicate persuasively. Taking a basic science course does not just eliminate a lab requirement, but teaches a student how to think and react quickly when a problem arises. A math class may end up just lowering a student’s GPA, but through that course, they learn how to manage time through nightly homework problems and to understand different perspectives through the multiple ways one solution can be found. Just these skills demonstrate that a student is employable, which is why Rotella thinks that these are even more important than any knowledge learned in major-related classes, stating simply that “if you worked hard and did your job properly and your teachers did theirs,” an employer will know that “you have spent four years developing a set of skills that will serve you in good stead in the postindustrial job market.” College-level classes, while sometimes stressful and frustrating, are, in the end, beneficial to the student, giving them expertise they may not have gained if the class was only as stressful as the classes they took in high school.
Attending college classes often includes interacting with a diverse group of people, which in turn leads to more understanding and a more open mind. Oftentimes, this may be the first time a student is surrounded by groups of people of different socioeconomic status or race than he, given that many people travel from the neighborhood they grew up in to go to college. It is important for everyone to be exposed to diversity in their lives so that they can listen to stories of different experiences than they have had, opening up their mind to new perspectives. It even has more tangible benefits, as Lee Bollinger reports in “Both Racial Diversity and Class Diversity Benefit College Campuses,” “Empirical studies have demonstrated that exposure to a culturally diverse campus community environment has a positive impact on students with respect to their critical thinking, enjoyment of reading and writing, and intellectual curiosity.” Once getting exposed to new people and cultures, students may become curious about the rest of the world. Also, taking classes at a diverse college forces students to interact with others who they may not have interacted with otherwise. In order to keep the peace, students must learn to communicate and effectively work with those different from them, preparing them for jobs post-graduation. Sheltered students who move straight from high school to the workforce may have only been surrounded by homogeneity their whole lives, and once they start working with adults from all over the world, they could have trouble learning to relate to them and understand their views. Overall, attending a diverse college makes a student a better person, decreases the chance of racism, and enables them to peacefully coexist with the rest of the world.
By becoming more educated citizens, students become more informed members of society, able to enrich democracy by analyzing political rhetoric and understanding multiple perspectives. Limited access to education not only hurts the individual, but the population as well. If a democratic society is made up of mainly uneducated individuals, they will not be able to make the best choices for their country, and will not have the knowledge to notice when their democracy is being taken away from them. As one of his three arguments in “3 Reasons College Still Matters,” Andrew Delbanco touches on the importance of education in politics: “The best chance we have to maintain a functioning democracy is a citizenry that can tell the difference between demagoguery and responsible arguments.” Something that is learned in college-required English classes is the ability to understand the tools of persuasion. An educated student will be able to decipher whether a political candidate is being honest or creating an unstable argument based on biased and unreliable statements. They will have the critical thinking skills to know which questions to ask in order to receive the most thorough and telling answers. They have learned in philosophy, after reading Plato’s opinions on government, what makes a government run smoothly and justly. They know what role they personally want their government to play, after learning the different types of governments in political science, and are motivated to vote in order to move closer to that ideal. They have studied history and written analytical essays that will help them avoid making the mistakes of the past. Through group projects, presentations, and heated debates, they have learned how to create and counter arguments, possibly allowing them to even work in politics themselves. The entire college experience makes a student not only more likely to vote, but to research, ask hard questions, and inevitably make an informed and smart vote, resulting in just and necessary legislation that betters their lives and the lives of their community.
Some still say that college is not the right path for everyone, because it can still end up just making a student lose money. In their essay, “A College Degree Is Not a Smart Investment for Everyone,” Stephanie Owen and Isabel Sawhill acknowledge that, on average, a college education is worth it, economically; however, they also point out that “According to Census’s calculations, the lifetime earnings of an education or arts major working in the service sector are actually lower than the average lifetime earnings of a high school graduate.” It is true that the lifetime profit from college may sometimes be a loss instead. This largely depends on the type of school, the cost of the school, and chosen major. Any student can ensure they will receive the biggest return in education costs by researching before attending. A student can choose to go to community college or a state school over a private institution, and decide on a major based on the salary they will earn in their chosen career. And, yes, some students may find that it is a better choice, personally, to go straight into the workforce from high school or to attend trade school, but, whether they save money or not, they fail to receive the numerous other benefits one receives from attending college. Owen and Sawhill even agree, noting in the same article that “Research suggests that additional education improves overall wellbeing by affecting things like job satisfaction, health, marriage, parenting, trust, and social interaction. Additionally, there are social benefits to education, such as reduced crime rates and higher political participation.” So, even if students are not focused on their lifetime salary, and are majoring in a field that does not always require a professional degree, they still stand to benefit from a college education. They may not receive the economic advantages, but all other points in this essay still apply to them, and they will live a better life all around. While making money may be the only reason that society currently accepts to go to college, it does not have to be everybody’s, as long as they are educated on the other benefits and are researched in what the smartest college choices are for them.
Often, when a student names their expensive college selection or impractical major choice, their listener will condemn them for making the wrong choices, and suggest studying something somewhere that will enable them to make more money. In this society, the college question is primarily formed around economy. Students are forced to forget their dream school, or are pressured to skip college altogether, because it costs too much money. They are prohibited from studying something they love because they are told their life would be better with a higher-paying career. However, our country needs to be educated on the reasons to go to college that are not centered around money. Many would be surprised that there are any at all. People need to learn that earning a college degree makes students better, more balanced individuals, and maybe, if they knew how much the community would prosper from such individuals, more kids would start going to college.
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