Raising the level of your leadership

Does It Matter Which One?

I saw the ad on TV last week: Get a college degree and you’ll make twice as much as a high-school-only grad. I cringe every time I hear that because there is a lot more to the story than just getting a college degree.There are a lot of reasons people go to college—some are good reasons, some are not:
– Because your friends are going, you’ll have a good time, and a get a degree in something—a lousy reason to go.
– Because your parents want you to go—better, but not great.
– Because you want an broad-based education that will help you understand the world we live in—a good reason.
– Because you have a specific career you want to pursue (nursing, accounting, teaching, etc.)—a really good and necessary reason.
– Because you want to make twice as much money as high-school-only grads. You will probably need a college degree, but it matters a lot which degree because not any ol’ degree will do.

Thousands of people of all ages have tromped off to college, run up thousands of dollars of debt—which they are now drowning in—and are either under-employed or unemployed. The twice as much paradigm didn’t work for many of them.

What has happened? Driven by technology, globalization, and so on, the economic world has changed! You may not like the change, but it is a permanent fact of life. As a result, education is still an important factor in future income but you won’t make twice as much unless your degree is in demand, and what is in demand has changed a lot in the last ten to twenty years.

Some relevant facts from various sources are:

  • Only 10% of psychology majors (undergraduate) are employed in a job related to their degree. For social science majors, it’s a lower 7%. (There are a lot of degrees like this.)
  • 95% of 2008 graduates in computer/information science are employed full time at more than $70,000 per year. (2008 humanities majors are much less employed at a much lower salary, $43,000.)
  • Only 16% of 2008 graduates had degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. The demand for these degrees is much higher now than it was in 2008. Accounting is also in high demand.
  • The top-ten income degrees (bachelor only) are in engineering (petroleum, nuclear, chemical, aerospace, electrical, mechanical, and computer), actuarial mathematics, physics, and computer science.

There are good reasons to go to college other than making twice as much. We need great teachers, godly preachers, skilled counselors, and so on. But few of those jobs make twice as much. So don’t pursue them for income, pursue them for impact—impact on our communities, churches, families….

So, what is the point of this?

  1. A degree matters, but which degree matters a lot more in terms of income potential.
  2. There is nothing wrong with majoring in the humanities or any other non-technical field if that is what you love, but don’t expect to make the college-degree averages because the averages include nuclear engineers, computer scientists, etc., who make a lot more.
  3. Your self-worth is based on your contribution to society, your family, and your community, not your income. Don’t let income become the measure of success in your life.
  4. If you are pursuing a degree you love but won’t pay much, do everything you can to avoid or minimize debt—work part-time and take five years. When you are 30, you’ll be really glad you did it that way.
  5. Whatever you are preparing for now, expect change to continue and decide now you will be a life-long learner who adapts to whatever changes come along.

Go to college? Yes. But do it for the right reasons, the right way, and with realistic expectations.

If this post was interesting and useful, please forward it to a friend—especially one who is considering college.

© Copyright 2014 by Dick Wells, The Hard Lessons Company.

2 responses to “Does It Matter Which One?”

  1. Dick – your analysis is completely on target. One of the conversations I am least adept at having with our clients is the risk/reward trade-offs of a college costs which are now minimum $100K all in for 4 years. Big decision as college debt is a struggle for so many. Thanks for your insights on this topic.


    • Dick Wells says:

      Thanks, Mitch. Many of my Hard Lessons drift into life decision issues not just leadership. I am often saddened when I mentor young people who have been to college, got a degree in something they love, have a big pile of debt, but can’t get a job in their field that pays much. There aren’t easy answers to this, but hopefully the post will cause some to stop and think it through.

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