Is college the best option? Amidst multiplying higher education controversies and soaring college debt, more Americans than ever question the value of a college degree. Some people consider going to college as a waste of time and money that results in a financial burden that keeps on impacting a person’s life sometimes even decades after graduating. Others do not reject the idea altogether but draw a clear distinction between useful and useless degrees. There are a plethora of opinions in the public discussion on the subject matter, with some of the most interesting contributions made by Owen and Sawhill, Ungar, and Addison. This essay discusses the ideas of these three scholars and shows that despite the different nuances of opinion, they would still be able to see eye to eye.
In the debate for higher education, it is often said that a degree is a necessary pre-requisite for upward social mobility and joining the middle class and higher strata of society. In their article Should Everyone Go to College?, Owen and Sawhill (2013) seek to partly debunk this misconception. First and foremost, scholars try to operationalize the nebulous value of education. They wonder about the actual impact of going to college and find that the return of education, or put simply, how a person benefits from it, is not always straightforward. For instance, those majoring in STEM (science, technology, education, and mathematics) have significantly higher earnings than individuals who pursued service work or liberal arts. Owen and Sawhill (2013) conclude that there should be more alternatives to the traditional academic path than there are now.
Addison (2007) addresses exactly one of such alternatives whose importance is often dismissed – community colleges. The author insists that community colleges in the United States are hidden gems that expose their value to those who dare to defy social and parental expectations. According to Addison (2007), a community college is a place to begin. It is less demanding and entrapping than a university, and it grants students more freedom to explore and choose their life paths. Ultimately, Addison (2007) agrees with Owen and Sawhil (2013) on the importance of non-traditional options, especially those that offer “affordable future” and “accessible hope.”
Ungar’s opinion is the one that stands out among the critics chosen for this essay. In The New Liberal Arts, the scholar advocates for the significance of liberal arts education despite the current economic climate that many find unfavorable. Ungar (2012) argues that while trade school might be a good option, it keeps a student-focused on one narrow field. The reality of life is such that not everything goes as planned, and potentially, a person with a broader knowledge base would stand a better chance. To Ungar, liberal arts education is well-rounded: it offers a wide range of subjects and brings harmony to personal development.
In summation, if all four critics – Owen and Sawhill, Addison, and Ungar – were in the same room, they would probably find the middle ground. They all understand the importance of education and fight against existing misconceptions that cloud Americans’ reasoning when choosing the best option. All four critics are interested in providing information about what it takes to survive on the modern market, be it choosing the right degree, starting small in a community college, or delving into several fields at once.
Addison, L. (2012). Two years are better than four. The New York Times. Web.
Owen, S., & Sawhill, I. (2016). Should everyone go to college? Web.
Ungar, S. (2012). The new liberal arts. Web.