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Given economic changes, is college worth it?

UCLA Between CNN's Money segment Thursday about the increased need for skilled labor, Fareed Zakaria's "Flight Plan for the American Economy," which points to the return of manufacturing, and Discovery Channel's celebration of blue-collar workers, it's no wonder higher education might seem less appealing -- especially given rising tuition costs, which stand to price out a lot of students. Add to that the persuasive nature of success stories about such college dropouts as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and, well, you get Andrew J. Rotherham's latest education column for TIME.com: Actually, College Is Very Much Worth It

Here's an excerpt:

It's also odd to talk down college -- which is the most effective social mobility strategy we have -- at the very time Americans are becoming concerned about income inequality. […]

So here's the key takeaway: Education gives you choices. Assuming you don't pile up mountains of debt that constrain your career options (and that outcome is avoidable) or go to a school where just fogging a mirror is good enough to get a diploma, there are not a lot of downsides to going to college. The stories of entrepreneurs who bootstrapped themselves are exciting but most of us are not a Gates or Zuckerberg. So before heeding the advice of the college naysayers, make sure you understand the stakes and the odds. Or, here's a good rule of thumb instead: When people who worked hard to achieve something that has benefitted them start telling you that it's really not all that important or useful — beware.


Charging varying tuition would threaten UC's character

Help California students by increasing UC tuition

Cuts to higher education: The Master Plan turncoats

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Royce Hall on the UCLA campus in Westwood. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times


Comments () | Archives (25)

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Ironman Carmichael

No. As college costs continue to skyrocket and college becomes what it was a century ago--a rich kids' playground--as an investment in one's future it's an increasingly poor gamble. Far better, if at all possible, to start shopping around for an internship in a field that interests you as early as 10th grade. Then, after graduation, get some sort--any sort--of entry level job to support yourself while also pursuing your internship. (You still have a better chance at a job than the growing legion of middle-aged unemployed who have years of now-outdated experience.) If you think you've missed out on anything, you can go to college later.

Of course if you're going for something like medicine or law, you don't have much choice.


One problem is that far too many students pursue a liberal arts/ethnic studies track that is almost worthless outside the halls of academia. Lets subsidize those willing to study the sciences and become productive members of society; let the rest pay their own way.


Not unless you are going into medicine, law, or economics, in my humble opinion. I also think that many masters degrees are useless. It just doesn't make any sense. And I loved college, but you don't learn any life skills or financial skills. It is great to read and write and attend lectures, but no one pays you to do that. And professors, getting BA, MAs, Phds, all that money to make 80 grand a year, which after taxes is around $1100 a week. I don't get it. The problem is that many professions (such as journalism) now require masters degrees, and it, for the most part, doesn't pay enough. So you have the very small minority of the offspring of the rich (1% of the pop.) only having the opportunities.


Higher education is the great scam, the next bubble, of our day. I'm praying it defaults soon, like the real estate bubble. Paying $50K a year to be psych major, honey? Better hone your waitressing skills.

David B.

I wish I had the money back that I spent on college years ago. It certainly didn't pay off for me. Unless your parents can pay for it (no student loan), and you get a useful degree (no PolySci, Psychology, English or Journalism), then forget it.
Ray Bradbury never went to college; he got his LEARNIN' from the public library!


College creates the _opportunity_ to learn. You can't expect schools to spoonfeed you everything you need to know. For every Gates there is a someone like Sergei Brin who used his college smarts to make big bucks.

The best advice for college-bound kids is to get out there and make opportunities happen, inside or outside of school.

But hey, these days, all you really need is an internet connection to get higher learning. The reason to go to college is to find mentors, like-minded friends, and get ahead of the cutting edge by a few months.

Donald Michael Kraig

The problem with this article is its very premise. The purpose of college should be to get a college education. This article assumes that it's just expensive job training. If all you're looking for is job training, there are other avenues that are more productive. But if you're looking to expand your knowledge of the world and the universe, the body and the mind, in ways that are unconceived of today, college remains the only option. Job training prepares you for work. College teaches (or should teach) how to open your mind. An open mind generally terrifies political and social conservatives, so they rail against it. And those who can't see past the tea bags just lap up the stupidity. College may not have resulted in my obtaining a better job. All it did was make me a better human being.


If you have great skills in sales or can motivate others, college may not be necessary. However, for the rest of 99% of people, the right college major is the meal ticket. Key is right college major that will make money afterward.

The strategy now would be to find the most affordable college that give you the best deal for the money. Forget finding on that make you feel "special". Higher tuition means less graduates, and diploma will be worth more. You just need to make sure you don't have a high debt to start off life with.


College is not worth it if you have great technical skills like programming. It is not worth it for those wanting to major in ethnic studies( or anything that you can not translate into an actual job: Accounting degree makes an Accountant, Chicano Studies makes a Chicano Studier?). It is not worth it if you are getting an expensive degree in Social Science, social workers do not make that much. Just spend a couple of hours doing the math: what is the difference between my future income(based on classifieds section of your paper) and my school cost? How long would it take to repay those loans?

College is still affordable. Do 2 years at JC, transfer over to CSU and take out a subsidized Stanford loan if you can not afford it. Go part time if you have to work. You are competing with millions of your peers all over the world and your next employer may believe that an applicant with a college degree is superior to the one who is not, all else being equal.


I am very, very glad that I attended and graduated from college. I had to pay my own way.

I wasn't looking for job training. I just wanted simply to learn about the things in life that interest me most.

To any young people out there trying to make this decision: I say go if you possibly can.

The best bargain available to California residents, in my opinion: Put in two years at a Cal State campus, work super hard, and transfer to one of the better University of California campuses.

It will most likely be the best decision you ever make in your life. And it will most likely add several hundred thousand dollars to your income over the course of your career.

But go for the sake of your mind, more than for the sake of your wallet.


Even at $36 per unit, California's community colleges are an incredible bargain. They offer a great ticket to upward mobility for those who willing to work at getting ahead.


No, it's not worth it, please never attend college so that I can outcompete you on any given day.

Richard Ivey

Too often college is just a rite of passage. Students and their parents are willing to pay any price for that. The practical approach is to place much of the curricula and course examinations on the internet and offer it for free. Then students would not have to pay or borrow anything They would just need to study. And that would end the billions of $ paid out to education rip-offs like University of Phoenix.

michael g

No, it's not worth it at the college pictured. Absolutely not...

Bud Wood

Yes, College can be worth the 4 years of non-productive work and the costs associated with those 4 years of college. However, right now, college for most is priced much too high. Of course, that depends upon the person, but for someone who can work, he/she can be successful whatever activity. Those who can't work (or don't understand the necessity) need to go to college to get a soft job with "Uncle Sam" or with another relative.


It depends on the major. Engineering and science majors tend to do much better than most liberal arts majors.


Is ignorance worth it? If you think college can be defined solely in terms of money, then you are either 1)a former business major who went to school for the wrong reason or 2) someone who didn't go to college.


this is unfortunate situation that prohibted continuing cost is rasing the question whether college is worth the cost? Just maybe, if these fee increases on our Students continue, then given the present “nasty scenario” the UC salaries and benefits need to be revisited! UC President Mark G. Yudof and regents need to provide strong leadership and have everyone that works in the UC system offer to take a 10% salary cut until budget conditions improve. Message from Native Californian and independent thinking democrat.

Startha Mewart

A college education does give you choices nowadays...between whether you want to work as a temp office worker or a barista. Too many degreeholders, too few appropriate jobs.


This is just an observation. I grew up in NYC. Most of my friends went on to college and came out with a huge bill. All of them have jobs.....all of them are employees trying to become employers in their respective fields. I moved to Westlake Village, CA in 2001. Nearly EVERYONE I've met since then are either high school drop outs, or 1st year college drop outs. ALL OF THEM (8 TOTAL) ARE WEALTHIER BEYOND THEIR WILDEST IMAGINATION. 45% of Forbe's wealthiest dropped out of school by the 2nd year.
More than half of the entertainment industry, including athletes, hollywood stars, music stars, (especially rap and hip hop), are barely literate let alone educated i.e. Derek Jeter (didn't even know what the 3 branches of U.S. gov't are when asked by Jay Leno in 2003) all the way to 50 Cent. They're all multi millionare's.


In my view, there are only two ways to look at the worth of a college degree. One way is to look at it purely in terms of a cost-benefit ratio. For those of us, like myself, who do not have our parents bankrolling our college "experience", this is the only viewpoint we can afford to have. The other way is to look at it as an opportunity for personal growth and the satiation of one's curiosity about the world in which we live. I will not speak ill of the merits of these ideals, but in using college to obtain them they are simply out of reach for the majority of Americans. Spending $150k at a private college so we can "find ourselves" while earning a degree in Art History is not practical unless at the end of your degree you owe little to no debt. If your entire goal in college is personal growth and learning about the world around you, then I would suggest a library card, determination and self-reflection as a far more economical way about it.

As someone who is currently in college, I believe I'm qualified to speak on the subject. I'm a year away from graduating with a B.S. in Physics, but the prospects for my employment look grim. I've chosen a field of study which is highly technical and very difficult, but also so generalized that unless you've narrowed your focus into a usable specialty that's supplemented by a graduate degree, your choices for employment are extremely limited. If I'm lucky, I will find employment in some field which is at best peripheral to Physics, but one which every day will under-utilize my full skill set and be a constant insult to my intelligence. So, let my experience be a cautionary tale: a B.S. in Physics is the Sociology degree of the Sciences. If you're good with Math, go into Engineering, go into E.E., go into Computer Science, but please, I beg of you, do not go into Physics.

Milan Moravec

The bloom comes off the University of California Berkeley. Cal below top ten in tuition to Return on Investment (ROI).

Ranking drops for world class preeminent public research, teaching Cal. In 2004 the London-based Times Higher Education ranked Cal the 2nd leading research university in the world, just behind Harvard; in 2009 ranking tumbled to 39th. By 2011 Cal had not returned to 2nd place.

Cal Chancellor Birgeneau selects $50,000 tuition out of state or foreign students instead of qualified Californians and denies public university education to sons and daughters of california tax payers.

Latino 2010 enrollment drops and out of state jumps at Cal: M Krupnick Contra Costa Times

Leadership at Cal is a flat tire!

Recommendation: New leadership to save precious University of California Berkeley


"Not unless you are going into medicine, law, or economics:

Not even if you are. A college education used to be of value because you could use it to get around the prejudices of the clique who controlled the work place and convince them you had what it took to be one of them. No longer. Now EVERYTHING is all about WHO you know, not WHAT you know. If people don't like you because you are too old, wrong skin, disabled, or just plain talk wrong or funny, NO MATTER HOW MUCH KNOWLEDGE OR DEGREES YOU HAVE YOU WILL NEVER GET HIRED.

Jim Kuhner

Is College Worth It? is a complex question with varied approaches on how one answers the question from a personal perspective.

My son just graduated from a four year private liberal arts college and yes, it was expensive.

I mention that as a qualifier as both a parent and also Certified College Planner working with families on addressing which college to choose and how to pay for it in the most efficient way depending on a family's financial situation.

Let's examine how I approach looking at a problem or dilemma that one might face; examining possible structural and attitudinal deficiencies.

Attitudinal pertains to what belief systems are in place about an issue and are they aligned with one's individual environment which largely correlates to how we are raised, our family history, and the community we grow up in.

That definition provides a micro "snapshot" of how we might answer the question but what if we look at what drives our opinions from a macro standpoint. What influences our perspective on going to college from "attitude drivers" who influence us.

Here is what I mean. "Pew Research Center" and "The Chronicle of Higher Educations" released a report titled "Is College Worth It".

+ 57% of American indicate that college fails to provide students with a good value for their money.
+ 75% think college is too expensive.
+ 97% of parents "expect" their children to go to college.

So one "might conclude" that whether college is worth it or not is irrelevant if a high school student wants to follow their parents' wishes.

Now let's move to the "structural deficiency" discussion looking at college selection. Too many students go to the wrong college, go for the wrong reason, and add additional costs which are unnecessary.

According to www.act.org, 64% of inbound college freshman will not graduate in four years. Many students do not have a solid plan of action in place prior to attending college. Furthermore, they go to the wrong school based upon what their parents wish, where their friends are going, or just plain misinformation from their environment that influences them making a wrong choice.

Students need to take charge of whether they wish to go to college, where and why they want to go, not "I am going because my parents say I have to".

Consider if a student took it upon himself to engage in a career profile process whereby they test themselves to discover their interests, strengths, and understood what they would enjoy doing from an occupational standpoint.

At this point they might explore vocational schools, colleges, and training/majors that would apply for career/s "they" have identified.

Now armed with a plan of action, let me suggest that few parents "who expect their children" to go to college would be upset if their student child came to them with a plan of action for a career where college was not necessary but an alternative type of training would satisfy the child's aspirations.

If college is the route, now the student has a plan and with the right type of software and guidance can choose the best college. Now I understand cost can be a limiting factor but I also know there are many colleges that could satisfy any students plan of action especially when the student determines their college major prior to going to college.

Closing out, the attitudinal deficiency with "Is College Worth It" is the parents' "expecting their children" to go to college.

The structural deficiency is our educational process and how we approach what the student wants to do when leaving high school. We need to put a heavier emphasis on career planning during high school

And to answer the question "Is College Worth It" just in plain economic terms here is the answer on income alone. The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that college graduates earn $19,550 more per year than their high school graduate peers.

I leave you with this thought. If a student tests their personality traits themselves with proper software, reviews occupations, possible training or college to enter those occupations, designs a plan of action, how do you feel their chances for success would be compared to the student who goes to college because that is where their friends are going, where their parents went, etc.

My bet is on the student who "buys in" to the Career Profile they develop themselves and their crafted plan of action.

Remember my reference to my son who graduated this month, May, 2010. He graduated in four years not the 5, 6, etc. which happens way too often.

Do you think he had a Career Profile and action plan in place?

More focus should be on eliminating mistakes rather than on how much college costs.

Jim Kuhner


The problem here is that people go to universities for absolutely no good reason whatsoever. It makes absolutely no sense to me to go to university with no declared major; what's the point of going to a learning institution without even an ounce of idea about what you want to learn? That's almost like going to a boutique and saying "I have absolutely nothing particular in mind, I want clothes". I'm sure you'll come out with the best bargain ever.

People who don't like studying should not go to universities. It is a waste of energy, time, and money. I like Physics, and therefore I am a Physics major, but if I liked make-up instead I would have gone to a make-up school. Don't major in psychology unless you're interested in it. Nicholas Urfe wanted to become a poet; he got a third class degree from Oxford. Useless. Charles Ryder wanted to become a painter, dropped out of Oxford and became a painter. Brilliant.

Social experiences? You can get far more of those actually being in society, rather than a cloistered academic environment. During my gap year, I met people from all sorts of places and all walks of life. University? Lecturers and students. No one else. Hardly an ideal place to gain social education.

Bachelor's degree is not a license. It is just a piece of paper telling others that you have so-and-so amount of knowledge and thinking methodology in this-and-this field.



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