Like so many things, it’s how you use it that matters

John Mueller,

A recent Wall Street Journal poll indicates more than half of Americans don’t believe a college education is worth the investment.

The Wall Street JournalNORC poll findings, as reported by Fox News, shows 56 percent of Americans surveyed don’t see a college education as a good investment while 42 percent of those folks surveyed feel completing a degree is a worthwhile undertaking. That’s a flip from 2013, when 53 percent of Americans surveyed viewed a college degree as a good investment while 40 percent didn’t see it that way.

Does that mean a person’s long-overdue return to college to finish wasn’t worthwhile? Hogwash.

Like so many things, it’s all what you make of it. If people go to college or trade school, learn, broaden their horizons and complete a degree program as a means to a meaningful career path to support themselves, a family and being an upstanding member of the community, then the sheepskin is a worthy investment.

There’s a guy for whom the last two years of college was a great learning experience. It’s amazing what a little maturity can do for a person. The journey began in the fall of 1979. He was 18 and enrolled at Inver Hills Community College. He changed his career path when a first-year media class assignment required him to write a newspaper story about someone he deemed interesting.

The kid quickly embraced the opportunity to select an interesting person and find out more about the person through actual conversation, getting to know the person by spending quality time together learning what makes the person interesting. Today, there’s probably an app for that. We spend precious little time getting to know one another and exploring our differences and common values.

He played a bit of baseball, tried out for the hoops team, eventually conceding he was too short, too slow to play. He figured, if you can’t be in the game, write about those who are, whatever the game may be.

He went on to Mankato State and got a job with the student newspaper by showing more interest in getting a job than the editors had at turning him away. He spent three years going to class, working on the student publication learning about his chosen field and using those lessons and clips to get a job after graduation. He was having too much fun to jump through all the right hoops. Did he graduate in 1984 as planned? Nope.

But the young man used his collegiate experience to get a job he wanted and has worked in a business for 38 years and counting. He learned plenty along the way, sometimes painfully, but enjoyed the benefits of great coworkers and bosses. After his son graduated from St. Cloud State in 2016, the guy returned to MSU to finish what he started.

On a Saturday morning in May of 2018, he climbed the stairs and walked across the stage to ceremonially receive a diploma, with his wife and kids watching. Now in his mid-50s, he sat down quietly, thought about the journey and wished his parents could have been there.


So why do people feel a college education isn’t worth the investment? Perhaps it’s how they’ve used it, or not, to accomplish their goals or discover a new path. Maybe the cost of an education exceeds their expectations of how it will help them. In his early days at MSU, a year’s tuition and books for a full-time student were about $4,500. When he went back, the cost of each class was over $1,000.

Rather than paying off debt, maybe the government could use money intended for paying off loans to control interest rates on student debt and curb the rising cost of an education. That way, young people will have more money to contribute to the economy.

According to College Board Trends, tuition and fees for public four-year universities (adjusted for inflation) increased by 9 percent between 2011 and 2021. While that 9 percent would be significant on its own, it comes atop steep tuition increases from 2001 and 2011, where the price of a four-year college degree soared by 73 percent. U.S. wages, meanwhile, have not kept up. In fact, the average median family income declined 2.9 percent between 2019 and 2020.

His actual diploma is still in the cardboard envelope. When it arrived by mail, he took a photo of it. It’s a reminder of the journey and education matters and is what you make of it and how you use it.



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