Pros and Cons of Higher Education

It has long been the case that post-secondary education has been considered essential to ensuring the future success of graduates in whatever job they take. However, in the last decade and especially after the financial crisis of 2008, the spiraling rates of student loan debt, the diminishing academic standards in many institutions and the rise of alternatives to traditional higher education is challenging assumptions about higher education.

Students in Class

The Pros of Higher Education

 Greater Earning Potential and Savings

Even though students are incurring increasing costs, in terms of tuition fees and student loans, there is still a proven link between post-secondary education and future earning potential.  As an example, according to Statistics Canada, in 2000 a university graduate stood to make $23,000 more per year than a high school graduate. 

On top of this, the impact is even broader. Those who graduate university can translate that earning potential into greater assets and savings. A Pew Research Center study found that over a lifetime, a university graduate can expect to make $650,000 more than a high school graduate. This will translate into more assets and a greater ability to save for retirement.

This economic advantage increases even more when one looks at wage growth for university graduates. Statistics Canada suggests that there is nearly 100% wage growth in jobs held by university graduates.


Opening the Mind 

There are also intangible benefits to a post-secondary education. In an article on the intangible benefits of higher education, Andrew Roth, the president of Notre Dame college says the intangible benefits come from learning how to problem solve, think critically and communicate more effectively.  

He goes on to point out that, "Study after study of its benefits demonstrate college graduates...have greater intellectual, artistic and critical thinking skills, civic mindedness, marital stability, self-esteem, more successful children, greater ethnic and gender tolerance and so on than their non-college counterparts."


Recession Proofing

A study released by Georgetown University entitled, "The College Advantage: Weathering the Economic Storm" found that during the financial crisis, people who'd only completed a high school education lost four out of five jobs. Students who'd completed a four-year degree in university were largely immune to these losses. Even more telling, half of the employment increases have gone to those with a bachelor's degree or better.

In fact, the Georgetown University report indicates that all of the post-recession job recovery has gone to students with education greater than high school and those with bachelor's degrees have fared even better.

The Cons of Higher Education

Student Debt

The biggest stumbling block for those considering higher education is the ever-increasing cost of gaining such an education. Tuition fees at most post-secondary institutions have risen and students are being forced to go into debt to afford higher education.

In America, the average student debt load was $29,400 per borrower in 2012 according to a report released by the Project on Student Debt at the Institute for College Access and Success. 71 percent of graduates incurred some debt and debt at graduation is increased at six percent per year.

All of these statistics add up to the fact that students will spend a good deal of their careers paying down this debt.


Declining Standards

Another issue with post-secondary education is the increasing drop in academic standards. The Economist magazine points out that there is good evidence that decline in the quality of students and and graduates is making university degrees more meaningless.

The Economist goes on to point out that a U.S. federal survey found that only twenty-five percent of students were proficient at, "using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential."

On top of this, the article cites the fact that thirty percent of students take courses with less than forty pages of reading per semester. Despite all of this, student grades have actually been going up according to the Economist. This disparity speaks to increasing grade inflation.

With decreased quality and increased costs, some students might be left wondering how much of an advantage a higher degree really leaves them with.


Alternatives to Traditional Higher Education

As students realize the costs of higher education, there are more people considering other ways to continue their education without breaking the bank or going into deep debt. 

The most viable option to the traditional path is to move towards a trade school education. Plumbers, electricians and other trades can earn their certification with less of cash outlay and become employable more quickly.  There is also the potential for starting one's own business after certification.

Of course, online education is also rising in popularity but its pros and cons should be discussed in a separate forum.




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