As a recent college graduate, I've been asking myself this question quite often lately. Was burying myself in student loan debt worth it? Could I have gotten an equivalent education elsewhere, or should I have even gone to college at all? I began to ponder these questions, and others, this morning, after it was reported that 53% of college graduates under the age of 25 are either employed or unemployed. That's dangerously high, and it certainly makes me wonder why college students still vote in droves for the party (*cough* Democrats *cough*) whose policies help cause this unemployment. That, however, is a blog for another time. What I'm more concerned with now is whether or not my time (and money) was worth the education I received over the past four years. Was yours?
Overall, the education I received in college was acceptable. I maintained good grades and was fortunate enough to be one of the few grads to have a job upon graduation (I AM THE 47%!). But, could I have gotten the same benefits without a university? And without the debt? Let's explore.
It's difficult to deny that I did in fact learn a lot while I was in school. Whether or not "Drugs We Use & Abuse" and "Theology 101" (Taught by a Glenn-Beck-hating Marxist) will ever come in handy is unknown. Yet, I did in fact learn quite a bit while I was in college. However, again, was taking classes at a university 5 days a week really necessary for my education? With a little bit of ambition, I certainly could have taught myself just about everything I learned from a professor in college. Considering my major (History), perhaps more. Without a few liberal professors here and there, I would at least had to deal with less bias and prejudice.
Conversely, a large benefit of a classroom education is the challenge of meeting course standards. In other words, "making the grade." The pressure on students to receive an acceptable GPA does boost learning, considering grades and intelligence (and/or time spent studying) are directly related. Deciding against higher education does eliminate this benefit, but that doesn't automatically mean that it's impossible to educate yourself without the external pressure provided by professors, tests & grades. You just need the internal drive to succeed, which for some people is enough. Others need a little push.
Yet, the benefits of having grades to monitor your progress also be achieved in a community or technical college, where the format is similar, but the cost (and time spent) is lower. Why spend $35,000 a year on a 4-year education you could just as easily receive in 2 years for a fourth of the price? In some cases, you might be missing out on the networking or opportunities provided by a larger university, but in others only the prestige factor is missing. It's really comes down to a case by case basis.
While I might often rail against the negatives of university life (liberal academia, overbearing student loans, etc.), I do honestly believe that college provided me with opportunities that would be difficult (or impossible) to find elsewhere. I served as the Chair of the St. Louis University College Republicans and the Vice Chair of the Missouri College Republicans. I took part in multiple internships, from which almost all of my post-grad opportunities/positions have stemmed. On another note, I can't deny that I made great friends and grew spiritually, emotionally and educationally during my 4 years of undergraduate education. Yet, I keep coming back to the same question, was it worth it? Was the experience of college worth $35,000+ a year?
Personally, I wouldn't change my college experience for anything. I can't yet say it's actually worth the money I put into it, for that's something that I will not be able to address for years. Could I have possibly learned more at a less expensive institution? Probably. Could I have still made great friends and lasting connections without spending 4 years stuck in inner-city St. Louis? Perhaps. However, I wouldn't be *exactly* where I am today without my college experience (Translation: Hindsight is 20-20). That's my personal decision, though, and that's what counts most. College worked for me, but it doesn't work for everyone. The assumption that "you need a bachelor's degree to succeed" is simply a myth. I know multiple people (both older and younger than I) who are much smarter and are much more successful than I am, and they decided against going to a traditional 4-year institution. Clearly, university life isn't for many, considering that 53% of us (college grads) can't find a job to fit our diploma (Here's looking at you Women's Studies majors), and most of us are up to our eyeballs in debt. Determining college's worth is not up to the collective. It's up to the individual. Unlike those t-shifts that scantily-clad cheerleaders toss our at Cardinals games, college is not one-size-fits all.