Is a college degree the new high school diploma? No

“I wanna go to college for the rest of my life / sip Banker’s Club and drink Miller Lite / on thirsty Thursday and Tuesday night ice / and I can get pizza a dollar a slice.”

If the lyrics to Asher Roth’s hit song “I Love College” are any indication, higher education may have lost some of its luster.

Sure, certain schools have carried the distinction of serving as the “Thirteenth Grade” for years, and the image of university life as nothing more than a four-year-long alcohol induced stupor dates back to at least the 1978 comedy classic Animal House.

Still, there was a time when it was a genuine honor for a parent to be able to say that their son or daughter had graduated from college – any college.

Today, most young people seem to view their undergraduate destination as High School Pt. II: a place to party ceaselessly and sow their wild oats, but not really much of a building block in the process of an actual education.

Many even insist that the bachelor’s degree itself, once the signifier of attaining a level of “professionalism” in whatever field they are pursuing, is now worth little more than a high school diploma – that graduate school has become not
only an option, but a necessity.

Now, perhaps even more than before the economic upheaval that’s shaken this country, we should uphold the value of the undergraduate education without overvaluing that of master’s and doctoral degrees.
Obviously, those upper level degrees will always hold a place of tremendous importance, but there is no reason that that fact must diminish the importance of a bachelor’s degree.

Of course, it would be ignorant to argue that an MA, MBA or PhD is anything less than vital to success in certain fields. But it would be equally foolish to suggest that today’s college students should be expected to continue on past their four (or five or six) years of undergraduate study.
Economically, it doesn’t make sense for a student to take on tens of thousands of dollars of extra debt for a degree that will place them at the end of the line in an already oversaturated job market. At one point, it becomes a case of just too many
prospectors and not enough gold.

Instead of buying into the hype of “necessary” graduate degrees, we should look to the well regarded systems of higher education in countries like Germany, where it is considered an accepted fact of life that not everyone is cut out for the upper echelons of academia.

We’ll never have that country’s well established network of trade schools and apprenticeships, and there may not be enough blue collar jobs available as things are to support such a system, but if President Obama’s plans for the economic and infrastructural futures of this country succeed, there will be a day not too far off from now when jobs are not so scarce along the American landscape.

At that time, there may be many openings for students with bachelor’s degrees, and many students with master’s degrees that don’t look quite so valuable anymore.