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Universal College Education: Should Everyone Go to School?

Aug 17, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

In March, 2009 at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Congress, President Obama expressed his ambition to make a college education more accessible to American low-income students through his proposed $2.5 billion Access and Completion Incentive Fund.  President Obama, as well as many policymakers and prominent minds in the country, believe that increasing the number of college graduates in the U.S. is a key component to our economic recovery.

But not everybody agrees.  Since Obama’s March appearance, opinions have been given on both sides of the issue. While many agree with the President, some believe that pushing more people through advanced degree programs won’t solve any problems—and may create some. Here’s a look at both sides of the issue.

The Cons: Why Everyone Shouldn’t Get a College Degree

A degree isn’t worth it to everyone.

As tuition increases outpace pay raises in almost every industry, the agenda of four-year degrees—particularly Liberal Arts degrees that hold to the credo of learning for its own sake—are coming under more scrutiny. Regardless of Federal aid, many students are graduating with tens of thousands of dollars in debt—and in many industries, it’s difficult to find entry-level jobs that can help them pay off their college debt without a struggle. 

Some students are forced to go into less satisfying and more lucrative careers than they would have chosen if not for the demands of paying off their debt.  If college degrees can’t get students into the careers they want—if they sometimes force graduates to go into careers that don’t appeal to them—are they really as valuable as we think? 

Not all careers need a college degree.

A lot of importance is placed on earning a college degree in our society, and students who choose not to enter a postsecondary program are sometimes viewed as failures.  But many legitimate and lucrative careers don’t require a four-year degree.

If you want a job in construction, hospitality, information technology, air traffic control, or a range of other industries, you may not need a four-year degree—or even anything more than a high school diploma and some certification. If this is the case for your chosen career, the debt load and time spent at a traditional college could be debilitating rather than uplifting.

Not all students want to go to college.

In American society, going to college is often seen as the one and only path to career success and happiness. But some students don’t want to go to college. There are many ways to succeed in America—and many versions of happiness. For some people, the fast track to success requires traveling, starting a business, or starting a family right out of high school instead of filling out applications and going on campus visits.

The Pros: Why Education Should Be Accessible To All

Not everyone has to go to college, but everyone should have the opportunity. 

It’s true that college may not be appropriate for everyone. But it should be accessible to all, regardless of ability to pay. America is supposed to be a country that offers great individual freedom—but if some of its citizens can’t improve their lives by earning an advanced degree because they can’t afford the cost, can we truly say we’re free?

Jobs requiring college degrees are projected to grow.

Nobody can say for sure exactly what skills and qualifications the economy will require when it emerges from the current recession. But some—including President Obama himself—believe that in an increasingly knowledge-based economy, post-secondary degrees will be crucial to success and stability.

The U.S. is falling behind in education. 

Far from being a global leader in producing highly educated citizens, the U.S. is ranked 10th in the world in its percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds who have earned an advanced degree—behind France, Japan, South Korea, Belgium, Norway, and Denmark among others. How this will impact our place in the global economy isn’t yet clear—but it’s not likely to be beneficial. If college graduation rates continue to fall, we may find ourselves surpassed in influence and innovation on the global stage.

Regardless of where you fall on this issue, it’s true that many students don’t attend or finish college because they can’t afford to—and in a country that values freedom as much as we do, that’s a travesty.  College may not be the right choice for everyone, and there are many paths to happiness and success—but nobody should have to give up a college education purely because they can’t afford it.


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