I recently shared an article on Facebook which garnered some discussion. Here's some further thoughts.
I’m not a huge Mark Cuban fan necessarily (watching him on Shark Tank is entertaining, of course), but he made some comments recently about the shifting higher education landscape that have made headlines in a few places. I think his comments deserve the attention, because they express a reality that I haven’t heard a lot of people talking about.
What is the value of a college education?
I’m thankful for my degree for many reasons, but if I had it to do over, I’m certainly would do a lot of things differently. My school itself (or the degree for that matter) has never really opened any special doors for me that I’m aware of.
I don’t even have a design degree, I have a Communications (with PR specialization) degree. What I did learn that has been helpful tertiarily is about advertising and marketing. That’s certainly helped in my broader job function, but nearly everything I do as my specific job function (design, code) I learned after college via blog posts, tutorials (shout out Tuts+ and Treehouse), personal projects, etc.
I did have a very positive experience at my college, and overall I value my college education for helping me develop my ability to learn.
A good friend and mentor once told me that the value in college is really just learning how to learn. I think that was very true of my experience, and it was certainly helpful to the end of teaching me how to research topics, seek out information, think critically about subject matter, and hone communication skills like writing and speaking.
Cost versus value
That being said, the cost of such an experience today is harder to justify against the ROI in today’s market, especially if you don’t end up in your field of study as is the case of many degree holders.
Granted, some career paths will require you to have a 4 year degree, or higher. And for some careers learning in a university setting makes the most sense, regardless of whether there are other learning alternatives.
But that is clearly not the case with all career paths, or even the highest earning paths these days. The availabilty of information and learning resources on the web has changed the game specifically for the technology sector.
I was fortunate enough to get a decent amount of financial aid and scholarships, so my total debt owed at the end of my 4 years was only $20K, which I paid off in just a few years. But if my kids want to go to a school someday and the cost of their education is going to be $60-$100K+ and they’re going to incur the debt of most of it after school, I will certainly caution them to consider the value of their education and the potential ROI carefully.
Specifically, if I had it to do over again I would likely take a few years to gain some real world working experience first, and save some money toward school, hoping to have a better sense for what I should study, and some money to pay it with. I would most likely pick a state school, or one with more affordable tuition than most private schools.
What about you? Do you have a college degree that has deemed invaluable in your line of work? Or do you have a college degree that is largely ceremonial? Will you encourage your kids, or the young people in your life to attend college?
Hollar at me on Twitter with your thoughts.