The Eventualities of “Everyone Should Have a College Degree”

No doubt many of you saw this exchange recently between Neil Cavuto and Keely Summers, national organizer of the Million Student March. If not, here it is. Enjoy yourselves.


For now, let’s set aside the fact that Mullen and her proclamations represent the best justification seen in a while for raising the minimum voting age in this country to 50. Let’s instead talk about a component to this overall discussion that can be all-too-easily missed: the very idea that that a college education should be available to everyone.

One of the core ideas that serve as the basis for the demands of folks like Ms. Summers is that everyone should have a college education. OK…let's say, for the sake of discussion, that everyone has a college degree (I'm talking about a bachelor’s degree here, which is what we all really mean when we say “college degree”). Now what?

A natural eventuality of each and every one of us having a degree is that said degree becomes worthless, as far as its role as a conduit to careers for which having a degree is genuinely appropriate…and instead becomes little more than a very expensive high school diploma. If everyone has a degree, then that means, well, everyone has a degree, including the guy who fixes your car, the electrician who rewires your house, and the lawn maintenance worker who trims your hedges. The need for people to perform those jobs doesn’t go away because everyone in the country now has a bachelor’s degree. How does the four-year degree assist those professionals in doing their jobs? What, exactly, is derived from the pursuit of a four-year degree that helps your auto mechanic repair your transmission? How does it help the sheet metal worker? The welder? The machinist? The roofer? The emergency medical technician?

We have dishonestly allowed the “everyone should have a college degree” narrative to supplant common sense thinking, when it comes to the subject of the economic infrastructure of the country, as well as the personal economic well-being of individuals and families. It is a narrative that has done a great disservice to the common man, as it has acted to emotionally and psychologically leverage him and his children into unconscionable sums of debt on the basis that his son or daughter simply must have a college degree in order to economically succeed. It ignores the reality that there remain all kinds of “no-college-needed” jobs available that provide much more than a mere living wage. Access to some such jobs may require more than on-the-job training, like a certification from a vocational school or local community college, but the point is that there are plenty of jobs out there that can be had for an initial investment of time and money far, far less than that which is required to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Sadly, countless numbers of companies and organizations are complicit in this, as well, now demanding applicants come to the table with bachelor’s degrees when applying for positions for which having a degree is obviously not necessary.

A collateral component to this concerns the quality of the college education received by the average person if, again, everyone has a college degree. Traditionally, college was not for everyone, and not because of a lack of access to funding (although that has certainly been one of the barriers for many). College has not been for everyone, traditionally, because it was reserved for the more academically qualified among us. Exclusion is supposed to be an inherent feature of gaining acceptance to college. I’m well aware that the concept of exclusion is very much out of step with the progressive social narrative of the day, but that narrative has, with very few exceptions, poorly served the nation. If lack of money is a barrier to attending college, there are a variety of ways to ably deal with that problem, even in this age of astronomical tuition at many schools. However, if you don’t genuinely belong at college on the basis of your qualifications, interests, and goals, you are due to rethink why you’re there at all.

To be fair, the overall cost of college in this country is a distinct problem, but the underlying reasons for that should be the focus of our consideration, rather than who is supposed to pay for costs that should not exist in the first place. There are a variety of ways to address the core issue, to include bringing back bankruptcy protection for new student debt. What do you think colleges would be able to charge for tuition if their enablers, the lenders of all that money, were suddenly at risk of being on the hind-end of defaults? Another part to addressing the problem? Work to reconnect society with the traditions and ideals of higher education, and, in the process, change the narrative that everyone should have a degree, a narrative that has already gone a long way to financially debilitating generations of our citizens.

The information contained here is for general information purposes only. The Financial Writer blog and Bob Yetman disclaim responsibility for any liability or loss incurred as a consequence of the use or application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein. Nothing contained in this article, or any other article featured at this blog, should be construed as a solicitation or recommendation to engage in any financial transaction. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any changes to your personal financial profile.

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