Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Great Debate: The Pros and Cons of College Degrees

I don't know if we've mentioned this before, but Kirstyn went to college, once upon a time. She spent a little while at our local community college before moving to Cal Poly where she spent the next chunk of her life working full time, going to school full time, and, at one point towards the end, battling an epic case of mono. She's basically a beast, and is now the proud owner of a Bachelor's degree in History.

Then there's me.

In high school, I had planned to be a writer of novels. As I had written the first three pages of an uncountable number of future best sellers, I was obviously qualified, but I figured I might as well go to college for an English degree anyway. But then I graduated and forgot all about that idea. Instead I planned to be a large animal vet (can you see how the two ideas are connected? I can't), so I got myself all signed up for school at the University of Montana Western, which specialized in their natural horsemanship program. Literally two days before my departure date, my horse was injured as I was turning her loose into her pasture, and those plans were effectively cancelled. I never did end up going to any sort of college after that, even though I tried multiple times to make more plans to do so.

Lately, in my Facebook feed, I've seen folks debating the necessity of getting more than a high school diploma (might I add that neither of us actually finished high school? One might say we got tired of it. Kirstyn got her G.E.D as a junior and went straight to college, while I graduated a semester early and worked three jobs just for the heck of it) so I decided to weigh out the pros and cons here, since I have a very nicely set up comparison just laid out in front of me.

I obviously don't qualify for any job that requires a degree, so I worked at a sandwich shop, as a nanny, in an Albertson's bakery decorating cakes, and finally at a daycare, up until I about halfway through my pregnancy, when I quit to stay at home like a good little wifey.

Kirstyn, holding the degree, worked at a few banks (she has better fashion sense than I do...pretty sure that's why no banks ever hired me), and as a nanny, before marrying Rob and staying at home like a good little wifey.

Okay, so we're basically the same up to this point, but Kirstyn's house is definitely more cultured. She has books of every historical matter lining her bookshelves (right next to Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables). I have Archie comics on the back of the toilet. She cans basically everything, whereas I buy basically everything in cans. I'm sure she and Rob have intelligent conversations. Tanner and I...well, probably not as much. She was never an uneducated pregnant teen, like I was for all of two weeks, but I can't say I regret the difference there.

Kirstyn is obviously more educated, and it reflects in her grammar. Apparently I was taught all wrong in middle school, because I frequently hear things such as "Why is it so much cute?" coming out of her mouth (usually while she's holding Wade, now that I think of it). I can't say I ever learned that sort of sentence structure. I, however, frequently regress to Neanderthal speech, using phrases like "Totes cray-cray!" and "Fo sho." What can I say...I'm uneducated!

However, I have to say that being without a college degree has been beneficial in a few ways. For one, since I don't have the resources to get a good job myself, I got a husband with one instead! But...oh wait. Kirstyn did that too, darn it. Tanner and I managed to buy a house relatively young, since we didn't have any debt to pay off from college. But so did they. In fact, they've probably got us beat on that point. Umm...I've got better eyesight from not having to read text books late at night! Probably not, actually...we both wear glasses.

This isn't working out quite like I thought it would. In fact, looking at the matter more closely, we even married very similar men! Both hardworking, both with a slightly overenthusiastic liking for guns. I suppose the only real advantage I have is that I don't have any debt. Kirstyn managed to make it through her five years with a minimal amount in student loans, in comparison to most of her classmates, but still laments it as a completely pointless bill that has to be paid every month now.

Honestly, the only real difference I can think of between the two of us (on this topic, at least) is that even though college was ingrained in us by the dragnet that is high school as the only available option, we went opposite directions. Somehow, though, we ended up on the exact same path just a few years later, with neither of us better off than the other. (Kirstyn: Well, except for that debt thing. Kara's the clear winner there.) Sure makes you wonder if there is much point to the college years, if you don't have a definite plan for using them later.

Oddly enough, in an academic world that stresses college as the best life choice one can make, neither of our husbands carry degrees either. Tanner did go to a vocational school, specifically for aspiring linemen, that lasted all of twelve weeks, and was immensely glad he did, as it helped him get the job he has now. I guess that goes to show that schooling beyond high school can be useful if you have a definite use for it in mind. But on the other end of the spectrum, Rob didn't go to college and now owns a very successful roofing business.

So, ultimately, who wins the debate? We both sit in the same station in life, making homes for husbands with varying levels of education. It seems like we're tied in a dead heat, but really, Kirstyn wins. If having an education gets you a house without pink carpet, I really should have gone to college...


  1. Actually, Rob did go to college. He just quit two weeks shy of his degree because of a huge roofing job that had to be started "right now." Not sure that makes a difference to your point, but in the interest of accuracy . . .

    And . . . what's "totes cray-cray"? My grammar is obviously lacking.

  2. It means "totally crazy". Kids these days are nuts.

    I maintain that Rob doesn't have a college degree because it's cooler that way...although I guess he does have the education behind the missing piece of paper. Don't tell anyone. :-D

  3. You can find online and all over references which show that education has little to do with success. To succeed in school all you need to do is regurgitate information. You are not asked to think or reason or understand, merely repeat. A formal education requires very little skill and only serves to fill in any gaps in your current knowledge base with handy tips that you could probably get by going to a library and paying a few late fees instead of paying thousands on a degree. The only reason people got into the hype of degrees is because our governments have pushed us to it with licencing and regulation. The quality of workers you get out of university or college are no better than the workers without the piece of paper, as an employer it is up to you to decide if it is worth the trouble.

    A degree lets people know that you "should" know what you are doing, that an "expert" has deemed you worthy. Problem is, most post-secondary institutions really don't care about anything but getting your tuition, and certainly don't care that they send millions of unqualified individuals out into the work force with a false guarantee of competency.

    An old boss of mine who used to be a prof. at M.I.T. complained about 24 year old economics students with mothers who would call her up to demand to know why their "child" was failing when they paid good money for her to get an education? The only answer is (other than this person is an adult, go ask her!) that she didn't put in any effort. Students like this are becoming more and more prevalent and academia is capitulating to parents who forgot that their first duty is to turn a child into a responsible adult.

    If you have drive and ambition and aren't looking to become a brain surgeon, don't bother going further in school. Get a part-time job in high school that is in a related field, borrow a ton of books from the library, attend conferences in your city and schmooze with the people in the business. Many successful people go back later in life when they have more money to challenge degrees and get that piece of paper, but that is not how they got there.

    My uncle has 4 degrees including one in Physics and another in Engineering (master's) and works as a security guard. No drive = no success even with a degree.

    1. You make some valid points, Joelle. I would add a caveat that teachers, lawyers and medical personnel need to know a basketful of standardized stuff in order to do their jobs competently abd work with others. Exactly what that "standardized stuff" should be is a topic for another conversation. Any other careers I can think of would do better with a trade-school education.