As you're sitting in class, whether it’s your first year, second year, or your final go round,’ you may wonder to yourself, “why do it I do this?” “what are these classes for?” And, “what does it all mean?” Most people will probably tell you that they go to college to get a better job, and that is a very valid answer. US News & World Report found that “among millennials ages 25 to 32, median annual earnings for full-time working college-degree holders are $17,500 greater than for those with high school diplomas only.” So that’s it. We go to college to make $17,500 more than we otherwise would have. For some reason, I am not convinced.
As I have gotten older, I have realized how privileged I am to live in a country with the as much opportunity as the United States, to grow up in a nice area with great public schools and be born into a family that can afford to send me to college. Let’s put things in perspective. The average income of a full time worker in the world is ~$18,000/year, well below the US poverty line. The average income of a full time worker in the US is about ~$40,000/year. However, averages can be misguiding because they also account for the uber-wealthy. According to BBC if you make more than $34,000/year you are in the Top 1% of the world. In the United States you don’t even need to go to college to be in the top 1% of the world. If we are comfortable (by a worldly standard) without college, why do we put so much emphasis on college and invest millions of tax dollars to support students.
The average full time student will take about 14 credit hours’ worth of classes. That hardly seems like a hefty amount of instruction. At the University of Richmond where I attend, a private institution, tuition alone for a semester is $24,710 (not including room and board). In a 16-week semester that comes out to $110 for an hour of instruction. Do students really value each hour of their classes to be $110? Absolutely not. So what are we paying for?
I believe we go to college for a couple of reasons outside of getting a job. For one, It’s generally a fun place to be, many people refer to college as the “best years of their life,” however, at least for me I hope that’s not the case. Living and associating with people of your own age develops social skills and independency that is often not found from living at home. It is also a relatively safe environment. And for better or for worse, college campuses also are a shelter for mistakes, growing paints that in the “real world” may have more life-changing consequences. The United State has a greater percentage of young people owning homes and providing for themselves then much of the developed world. One could argue that independency that American students learn at college has driven such productivity in the US.
College also gives you access to abundant resources that are there for you to take advantage of: Excellent study space, a library, a gym, science and computer labs, databases, and food you don’t have to prepare yourself. These are resources that you may realize you took for granted after you graduate and help you save a lot of time so you can focus on bettering yourself. College also gives you access to highly educated professionals in a wide variety of fields. If you are interested in going into a certain career, chances are there is a professor with their door open waiting for you to ask all the questions you are looking for. These are the type of people that businesses would pay thousands of dollars just for their advice. That’s valuable. That’s why it costs $110 for an hour of instruction. Not because that hour of instruction is that valuable, but because the set of circumstances surrounding you are.
At the end of the day, you may still be able to tell me that yes, all these things are true but you are doing it to better yourself so you can get a job and make money. Sure, but I value my education more than that. I take a fair amount of both professional classes (those that prepare you to do a certain task/job) and liberal arts classes (those that are designed to educate you in a broad sense) and the professors from both fields tend to think that their class is what will make you successful. To a degree I think it’s both. Professional experience makes you marketable and can give you skills in your areas of interest. Liberal arts classes expand your mind. Learning to think on your own and asses the world around you are important. These are the skills that may help you solve some of the world’s broader problems. College gives you opportunity to sit back and think, to find inspiration and come up with the ideas that may change the world. You may not find that in the monotony of entry level jobs. While I am happy about the extra 17.5k, my education is about much, much more than that.