Most University Degrees are Overrated

Ok, you may hate me for this, but I think a LOT of university degrees are overrated.  People take expensive education only to never use it in their jobs (I know a lot of Arts majors who made this mistake).  So that in my mind is NEVER “good debt” unless you can make more money with a degree than without one.

While I accept the idea that not all education has to be useful, but when you getting into massive debt to get the education I can only really defend that if you use it to get a better paying job.  Otherwise…it’s a nice luxury item, that  whole lot of people really can’t afford.  It’s hard enough saving your first $100,000 in life, but adding an negative $60,ooo to $80,000 before that is just screwing over young people.  You end up with 10 years of negative compounding interest prior to actually saving much of anything.

Of course now degrees are so bloody common that they are basically meaningless in a lot of cases, so what is a good solution?  Well I don’t know, but one idea that come to mind is stop subsidizing universities so much….keep supporting the research, but let the tuition levels go up.  Pardon?!?  Yes I would like to see tuition levels keep rising so people actually think for a minute about what they are doing (apparently the current $40,000+ per degree isn’t sinking in).

Yet I would also like to see more development of practical applied skills training (even in high school).  There is nothing wrong with learning a trade…heck I’ll encourage my own kids to take one if they have an interest towards any of them.  The money is good, the training is often less expensive and shorter.  Not the mention switching to another skill set is easier if the labour market shifts on you.  I’m not saying reading Shakespeare is useless, but no one needs to read three different plays and study sonnets during the teenage years, perhaps instead might we actually give kids some employable skills.

13 thoughts on “Most University Degrees are Overrated”

  1. Very well written thoughts! I couldn’t have said it better myself. You really need to look at your life goals before you decide to jump into college debt. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said college that does not increase your income is a luxury.

  2. I agree with you. Far too many people get a degree because “its what you do”. I don’t know what the solution is because the commonality of the degrees makes it difficult to get white collar jobs without one. Still, that’s a pretty terrible reason to go so far in debt.

  3. Thank you for this. This has been my feeling for years.
    I wasn’t a great student in high school because no one looked at the skills and abilities I did have, they only looked at my inabilities. I only have a college certificate (along with other transferable skills and courses) and had a very good paying government job. I am now 35 years old, own 5 houses (4 rental properties), have quit my gov job to start a business that I love, and am probably 5-7 years away from FI. All this from a girl who doesn’t have a university degree!!!!! Who knew 🙂

  4. Interesting. I did take a trade in high school — and read sonnets and plays and studied history and geography and eventually did pretty good at math. Talk about a useless(!) subject, but which I eventually found a use for when climbing mountains, but that’s another story and a half. Then my perfectly good trade which I’d become damned good at over 20 years and eventually parlayed into the aforesaid mountain-climbing went the way of the dodo once computers kicked in. So I learned computers, and then I taught people how to use computers. However, having a high school diploma as a minimum job requirement eventually was superseded by the minimum job requirement of a BA. Any job. Because of course, by the time you hit your 40s, working at Mickey Dee’s or Tim’s isn’t really any kind of “career move” at all. Right?

    Times and the world change. Minimum requirements to do those jobs change. I get it. But who could have ever guessed that whole employment sectors would disappear forever as computers took over? In fact, who would have ever guessed that whole North American job sectors would vanish seemingly overnight only to show up in India and China the next morning at a tiny fraction of the wage?

    I got my “useless” Arts degree from McGill in 1995, at the time the cheapest university in Canada both from a tuition perspective and a living costs/proximity perspective (time and motion should not be discounted; only in Montreal was I able to live a five-minute stumble from my 8 a.m. classes). I got my degree rather late in life because by the time the ’90s rolled around I literally could not get an interview w/o a BA, and these were interviews to do jobs I had been doing for top companies for almost 25 years.

    Back in 1985 I’d gone for a particular job interview to paint highway signs for the Yukon Territorial Government. What an eye-opener that was. This was my first time dealing with HR, btw. It involved first being put into a broom closet so that none of the five people being interviewed could see each other, even though we all knew each other because there ain’t that many signpainters in Whitehorse. Once they let me out of my broom closet, the interview proceeded. HR had a checklist. “Yes, yes, yes, no, yes…” and then I was asked if I had a BA. “No.” “Oh.” I asked why that was a problem. This was a job painting highway signs, after all. They said, “Oh. Well. We check things off this list of questions and then add them up. The person with the most checkmarks gets the job.” I’m not joking. “You’re telling me I need a BA to paint HIGHWAY SIGNS?” I guess from the expression of disbelief on my face I was perceived as having a bad attitude and I didn’t get the job.

    As the ’90s kicked into high gear, it turned out everyone needed a BA just to get an interview doing anything. Fine. Okay. Message received loud and clear. Since I couldn’t get a job anyway I went off and got myself a BA, which I did in 2.5 years, btw, not 4 — primarily through hyper-organisation and efficiency, not any particular mental ability, as I also worked full time and even managed a social life away from the university taking art classes in the Old Port, participating in art shows, etc. Did I sleep in those 2.5 years? Uh, that would be a negatory. Took me a year to recuperate, in fact.

    I’ve never used my BA per se, except to find work in Italy where it magically opened doors; here in Canada it has effectively closed doors for 20 years because I’m seen here as woefully over-qualified with even employment counselors advising me to dumb my resume down.

    So, yeah, people nowadays getting a university degree had better make sure it’ll be instantly marketable and a money-maker for them if they go the student loan route or attend on the pay-as-you-go plan because otherwise they will find themselves in appallingly crippling debt that will haunt them for YEARS. It’s not the amount you borrow. That’s the cheap part of an education. It’s that compounding interest that they NEVER, EVER show you the figures for that will kill you.

    I did have a wonderful time at McGill and I absolutely loved living in Montreal. I had a blast. So there is that. I have a far, far richer internal life for having gotten that BA. However, despite working full time (at minimum wage) while going to university the student loans I took out dragged me down for years and prohibited me from taking advantage of admittedly low-paying but opportunity-of-a-lifetime jobs in foreign countries.

    Yes, people need an education, including the so-called artsy stuff because that’s how people learn to create and to use and adapt the useful hard skills. And, yeah, the trades are where it’s at. When was the last time you needed a plumber or an electrician? “My basement’s flooded, what do you mean I have to wait a week for you to come???” Can’t outsource those types of jobs to China or India.

  5. I’m sad to see that getting a University degree requires an individual to acquire a lot of debt. I think that it gives a person some intangible benefits that might make it worthwhile.

    If money is a problem, then it is possible to attend a community college for much less, and still get a lot of the benefits if not more of a University or post-secondary education.

    I don’t think that it is a good idea though to just make it accessible to the rich. Generally more educated societies benefit in ways other than financial. Just look at some of the backward countries in the Middle East with their dictatorships and militant and intolerant religion, and you get the idea. Lack of education can lead to narrow mindedness and all that goes with that.

  6. I find that now adays to be considered for a better job, need more education. Because a normal degree is so commonplace, it is almost like you need an MBA to become a supervisor, and a PHD to become a CEO.

    I did the college route, while living at home and had a lot of help and support from family members. I also finished my accounting designation through different employers who would reimburse for my courses upon successful completion. Let me tell you, a couple failures and the $$$ comes into play and changes a lot of things.

    I have also gotten a degree through work as well, and they have also approved me to take my MBA. So I have been very lucky and fortunate for this.

    @ Dana – Remember that people like the guy who started Facebook dropped out of school to pursue it, as did Bill Gates. So its not about the education. I find that there needs to be a mix of street smarts and book smarts. Great work on the rentals. It is an avenue I am investing in as well.

    Lack of education can definitely lead to narrowmindedness. It’s the people who think outside of the box who are going to get ahead in life. 🙂

  7. I remember whan I was in college in the early 1980s a joke we business majors made about some liberal arts majors: “Philosophy majors can’t get a job after they graduate….but at least they know WHY!” LOL

  8. I guess it depends on what you really want to be. You need a degree to be an engineer, geologist, doctor…but you must want to do that before you decide to spend the money.
    I work at a local university and am generally dismayed at what comes through the doors. Last year there was a very, very easy question on the test–where is the pacific ocean?– and I had more than one student tell me they were no good with science and had no idea where the Pacific Ocean is…….sigh. Never mind when we get to the mapping section and they do not understand scale, how to calculate a simple area, and even how to convert cm to kilometres.

    What we do need is better basic education at the secondary levels and really good career classes.

    I do admit that the majority of the students who make me shake my head are in my class because they need a science elective to graduate, it really is not their thing.

    My husband and I put our son through university and he is now gainfully employed in a job he loves, environmental science. The competition was HUGE and his saving grace was that he had taken additional courses after his graduation. He persistence won him the coveted position.
    Education and sheer determination worked in his case, but education alone doesn’t always work.

  9. > I’m sad to see that getting a University degree
    > requires an individual to acquire a lot of debt.

    It doesn’t require debt provided you’re willing to work while studying.

  10. Even back in the late 60’s when I was working on my BSc in engineering, we made fun of BA students. But at least many used it as a stepping stone to a law degree or ac teaching degree. Now these days, the recent news in my province of NB is that we are churning out way too many degreed teachers and the number of teaching jobs is shrinking due to the combined interrelated effects of aging population, lower birth rate and high unemployment. So Tim’s and Walmart will have lots of educated people to pick from.

  11. I paid off my arts degree and education degree by working throughout my post-secondary education so I was lucky enough to never need to borrow money. THAT BEING SAID, the amount of money I sunk into Memorial University of Newfoundland to get a useless Arts degree is heart breaking now. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at first so I wasted a few years doing random courses. In the end I never studied what I wanted for fear of obtaining a “more useless” Arts degree.
    In the end I am glad I went through the process as it turned me onto some different ideals, but who is to say that I wouldn’t have stumbled upon the same ideals in another way or on another path ?

    I’m fortunate enough to hold a position as a teacher at present, BUT that is luck. My Arts degree make me a dime a dozen.

  12. You know to take an opposite position, there is merit in an arts degree. I can’t tell you how many people I meet can’t write a decent sentence, craft an opposing argument that makes sense, or summarize a position succinctly. In addition as a society, I think we do need people making art, music, poetry and other “trivial” matters. I mean the world is a better place having had Van Gogh in it, even though he never really made any money as an artist. I’d hate to see this aspect of life perish as people pursue Business Degrees that often promote groupthink and decisions by committee. I find it telling that two of the largest tech companies in the world (apple and microsoft) were founded by university dropouts, so I don’t believe there’s necessarily no value in arts degrees or their overrated. Having no plan for what to do after you graduate, regardless of degree, however, is stupid.

  13. I think this post makes sense if you see a university degree as job training/credentialing and only that — sort of a fancy version of welding school. If that’s the case, you should definitely consider the trades instead of a four-year degree, or try to guess which credentials will be in demand when you finish. I do notice, though, that a lot of people who do that end up dissatisfied with their programme or job, or burnt out.
    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the early-retirement websites that I like are written by engineers and IT industry people. Their money-oriented educational choices have led them to jobs or employers that are unpleasant. On the upside, though, they’re probably earning enough to get out of those jobs early!

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