The Value Proposition of Today’s Traditional College Degree: Is it Really Worth It?
Ask yourself these 5 questions.

Linda Underhill Blog HeaderTechnology, rising fees, student debt, lack of jobs for graduates, are undermining the perception that university is a good investment. And a great deal has been written about the value of higher education for all. So is it really worth it? Is the value of a degree worth the debt incurred and anxiety of paying the debt off? My perspective as a college professor and someone who earned her PhD may surprise you. I believe it really depends on you. So, if you have been considering pursuing a college degree ask yourself these 5 questions:

(1) Why do you wish to pursue a degree from a higher education institution?
If it is because you have not really figured out what you want to do with the rest of your life; and this seems a good option to delay that decision? Think again. While you are racking up debt and enjoying the quasi freedom of college life, the price for the educational experience starts to add up. Add to this to the decision to pursue a degree that may speak to your inner self-but is not capable of landing you a job when you graduate and you and/or your parents now have a double whammy – big debt with no career potential to pay it off.

(2) Have you thought about the “trades” as a career?
Are you interested in fixing things? Do you like electronics and figuring out how they work? Plumbers, electricians, carpenters all make a good living for themselves and their families doing work they like doing. A certificate from a trade school or BOCES equivalent in the trades combined with an apprenticeship can result in a faster career trajectory, little debt and the ability to start your life faster.

(3) Do you have a career direction — but no means to pay for a prestigious college degree?
A two-year community college degree is the most economical vehicle for education available today. You can live at home, commute, go to school and earn money in a part time job while you learn. If the academic program turns out not to be a passion, you’ll end up with minimal debt and may be able transfer coursework. If this academic degree translates into employment, you can pursue the four-year degree while you work by attending an online education program. Working and paying for tuition as you go makes so much more sense than incurring a high debt load with the hope of landing a job and earning more in the future.

(4) Have you taken inventory of your life? Are you in charge?
Being in charge of your life, shaping it and making smart decisions are after all, what is expected of you. Parents, loved ones, friends all want what is best for you and they urge you to have a good start in life. Consider carefully how you will live the rest of your life. Is education going to get you what you want, will the required cost and effort contribute to the value proposition of a better life? If yes, what type of education, when, how long, and at what price are all questions you should consider before taking that first step towards the rest of your life.

(5) Does online learning fit your life better than living on a campus?
Do you need work-life-family flexibility? Are you thrilled by technology? Are you self-motivated and good at independent study? Online learning can have a positive impact on many of your lifestyle factors while still preparing you for what’s next. If you think a career-oriented education is what you need you will want to check out RIT Online. (RIT alums are – and work for more than 3,000 various employers around the world including Google, Apple, and NASA.)

Whatever your path, pause, stop and take inventory of your life. Rip down traditional barriers that may weigh you down. It’s up to you to consider all options; traditional or otherwise. After all, those big textbooks are ridiculously heavy – so lets make sure you are the author of your own life when it comes to what’s next.

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Linda Underhill

About Linda Underhill

Associate Professor and Department Chair of Service Systems based in RIT’s College of Applied Science and Technology