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Editorial Team
24 Jul 2019

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A Wasted Dream - Do College Degrees Cost More Than Their Actual Fee?

Wrong-way upstream - Degrees take professionals farther from their dream career destinations

Scene 1:

The world is an easy place. You are born, you go to school, you get a job and life is sorted. You marry, have kids and retire. It is easy, smooth and pleasing, like evening waltz, step-by-step. No surprises, no thrill, no shocks, no horror, and no losing balance. Simple, easy, predictable moves. You have learned your steps and now you dance effortlessly to the tunes that you’ve heard a million times before.

Scene 2:

New technologies tuned the world to a different frequency and in a matter of few years it switched from Glenn Frey’s “The heat is on” to Pink Floyd’s “Another brick in the wall.” The world is dancing to a different tune. You don’t know what it is. The change was like a sudden shower and it swept the secure jobs ground from under your feet. You find yourself left-out, off-balance and off-beat clinging somehow to the slippery pole of your boring job. Another recession jolt and you lose your grip over it forever; you barely survived the last one. Your dance has become a graceless irony, your time a wasted opportunity, your life a struggle between what is and what you expected it to be.

Scene 3:

The masters of the game aced the tune and now they are running the show. Your sure-job-post-degree waltz is no more relevant.  The world is clapping to the technology ballet splits of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jack Dorsey, and the likes. Before you know it, the act is done. The stage to reset.

You are sleepless. The education debt that you took years ago is haunting you. You are jumping credit to credit. Should you replace that fossil car? You hate to be seen driving it. But you can’t afford it with that education loan. You are tied for another 15 years. And you don’t even know which morning they might hand you a pink slip. That after so many years of loyalty. Gosh! Isn’t it suffocating?

You are at the Times Square watching those half-wits, self-assured, barely adult recent graduates flaunting their car keys and their branded attires. You’ve heard they make 6 figure salaries, probably double what you do and you wonder - “Why them and why not me? Was my degree worthless? Was all that years of hard work in vain? Where did I go wrong?” Those job ads seem to speak French, skills you haven’t even heard of.

INTERMISSION:

If this isn’t you, then congratulations. You have made it. But the hard truth is most of us are. Employers have jumped out from the degree ship to skills ship and employees are yet to come up in terms with it. In 2013, Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz studied job opportunities for graduates and found 62% of college graduates are in jobs that need a degree while only 27% are in jobs that relate to their major. 93% of employers rate problem solving, critical thinking and communications skills higher than the candidate’s field of study. 95% of employers are seeking radical thinking and innovation skills.

  • Silicon Valley is favoring liberal arts students over tech students.
  • IBM’s, Joanna Daley, Vice President of Talent, said in an interview that 15% of the company’s hires in the US don’t have a college degree and the company is preferring candidates with more hands-on experience.
  • Elon Musk, when asked about his preference in hiring from reputed universities, said: “When it comes to hiring talent for his team, that he could care less where candidates graduated from college, much less if they graduated from college at all.”
  • Google found no relationship between job performance, GPA and college affiliation.

Glassdoor’s 2018 list “15 more companies that no longer require a degree” includes big names like Google, Apple, and IBM. Interestingly, Glassdoor also said that these jobs are well-paid. The list of employers, who ask for skills and not degrees, is expanding with organizations like Penguin Random House, Costco wholesale, Hilton, Publix, Bank of America, Nordstrom and Home Depot adding to it. In 2017, PwC launched a program for high school students to work as accountants and risk management consultants. These students were to receive the same career growth as their graduate peers.

After the Break:

In 2018, around twenty million students enrolled in colleges. Most of them took debt to pay for their fee. The way the job market is right now, we can’t tell if they will be able to re-pay this debt off. Skill universe is changing, pretty fast at that. Between 2015 and 2018, Americans spent an additional 72 million hours freelancing every week and their numbers grew from 53 million to 56.7 million. The World Economic Forum says 65% of primary school children will do jobs that don’t exist at present. While around 50% of the American workforce is turning to gig works only 79% say that their college degree has been useful for them in keeping pace with the changing workforce. In contrast, 93% of freelancers who have a 4-year college degree say their skill training was useful.

Despite this, the degree delusion continues. Degrees commit lifelong competency to their holders. However, a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum says “in many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate.” Recent data from Upwork says “70 % of the fastest-growing skills are new to the index.” None of the top 20 fastest-growing skills on the Upwork’s latest Skills Index need a degree.

Is it time for education reform?

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