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Degree or no degree? That is the question

Education has become a prevalent problem in today's society.

Young adults of our generation are becoming frustrated by the lack of opportunity in the global job market. During the tumultuous 2016 election this year, Bernie Sanders, an elderly Jewish man, became the voice of the youth. Not only did he share his views with millennials on social issues, but he also conveyed their anger for being handed the short end of the economic straw. Young adults are supposed to be participating in the global economy because of their disposable income; but these days, all their money is being used to scramble themselves out of debt.

And how did they accumulate so much debt? Student loans.

The cost of education

With the job market in its current state, it will take an average of 20 years for students to pay off their student loans – keeping in mind that this is only an average. There are still 15% of college graduates who will continue being crippled by debt well into their 50s, which is a possible explanation as to why only two-thirds of high school graduates went on to pursue post-secondary education in 2011.

Millennials are spending money to go to school in hopes of getting an education for jobs that are quickly disappearing. What, then, is the solution? The first obvious fix would be to have interest-free student loans, but what if the solution is simpler than that? What if it's possible for education to become an unnecessary step into the workforce?

Studies show that visible minorities tend to worry about this issue more than Caucasians. Hispanics, Asians, and African Americans believe that four years of post-secondary education is a pathway to success whereas only 50% of white North Americans believe this to be true. When looking at the numbers, it’s evident that workers with a degree tend to make more money annually than those without an education in their given background. The explanation for this is that professionals like doctors and lawyers make more money and are required to attend school to hold their positions.

Today's job market, being very competitive, makes it difficult for students to pick a path for their future. The choice of going to college and obtaining a degree, despite the debt that will inevitably accumulate, could lead to a long-term career. The second choice is to head straight into the workforce, bypass debt and lose the reassurance of long-term stability. Deciding between these two options could change someone’s life; so before making this crucial decision, the question is: do degrees hold any value?

The value of a college/university degree

How often do millennials hear the same story of their parents or grandparents walking into a store, spotting a "Help Wanted" sign and leaving that day with a job? This method worked a lot better in trades, but you get the point. In the early 1990s, 47% of available jobs didn't require a degree. In fact, a lot of employment positions didn't even ask for a high school diploma.

The reality today is that 62% of grads work at jobs that do require a degree, but only 27% of them work at jobs that relate to their major.  What does this mean for the students? Well, those long decisions about what to major in are no longer necessary - we are obviously excluding highly specialized professions such as medicine, law, and engineering.

Students can study in their fields of interest while not feeling pressured to choose a career path at the same time. For example, one doesn’t necessarily need an English degree to be a writer or a Political Science degree to get a job in government. Even a History major can find employment in the business sector; in other words, many degrees are transferable into multiple areas of the workforce. 

So does this mean that degrees are becoming obsolete? Not exactly. Although times have changed, employers still prefer to hire college grads. While a graduate may not be applying for a job in his/her field of study, s/he has nevertheless acquired skills that post-secondary education tends to give their students, such as time management or critical thinking.

When polled, 93% of employers said that having skills such as critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving are more important than having a particular major. Another 95% of employers stated that they ranked innovative thinking higher than an individual's major in their hiring standards. Silicon Valley, for example, hires more Liberal Arts majors than tech majors.

“More and more, employers are going to want to see some proof that a potential employee has actually gained particular skills. So certificates that can credibly attest to someone’s ability to write computer code, write a decent essay, use a spreadsheet, or give a persuasive speech are going to be worth more and more,” says Professor Miles Kimball, of the University of Michigan.

Now that you have all the facts and figures, you can follow your heart when you decide what you would like to study. Feel that little burst of hope, really soak it in, because that little bubble of optimism is about to burst. After graduation, you leave on a high with all this knowledge on your subject of study, but the reality is you need a job. Now, we're back to the problem of the job market; all the knowledge you've accumulated is not a guarantee for your future success.

“It has yet to be proven that intelligence holds any survival value," says Arthur Clarke, acclaimed science fiction author. So if your vast knowledge of black holes and pastry dishes is going to get you nowhere, how do you get a job?

Job hunting

Most jobs these days are gained by finding personalities that click. Employers want to hire people they like and are easy to get along with, so they'll hire people they already know. All those nights you spent studying to get that GPA up doesn’t matter if your personality doesn't click with your employer's.

Even if you do have a great personality, there's still no benefit in spending late nights in the library. Solution: get out and volunteer, get experience, get an internship and make connections with other students at events or by participating in clubs. The old saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” still rings true.

These tips may seem very straightforward, but make sure you take them in. As a college graduate, you're going to need all the help you can get. As Annie says, “it’s a hard knock life,” and she may as well have been talking about the job market. In 2011, more than half of college grads under the age of 25 were unemployed, while 13% of college graduates at the age of 22 were only able to find employment in low service jobs. This number fell to 6.7% for graduates by the time they reached the age of 27. So you’re most likely not finding a job right out of college, but patience is a virtue and was hopefully one of the skills you were able to develop during your years in the classroom.

Still having trouble making that choice? Well, you are the holder of your future, but we'll crunch it all down as clearly as possible.

The unemployment rate for new graduates is 8.9% while those who choose not to pursue post-secondary education see an unemployment rate of 22.9%. What about those pursuing careers in medicine and education? Well, they only have an unemployment rate of 5.4%.


It's clear that most jobs don't require a particular degree, but employers still want to see employees with some level of education in their background. With the job market being so competitive, companies can wean out those who have "skills" that are acquired through post-secondary education versus those who don’t. So make sure you focus on your social and critical thinking skills, because they are quickly becoming your ticket into today’s and the future’s job market. 

Forecasted start year: 
2025 to 2035


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