Do I Really Need a College Degree?
Looking back on my life so far, there are, of course, a few regrets I could name. Among the top things that I wish I did differently would be taking better care of my teeth and not having my dad get me a condo in Phoenix right before 1) the market sank and 2) I decided to move to California. In addition to that, I’ve often wondered how things might have gone differently for me if I’d focused more on completing college instead giving it a half-hearted attempt and then letting my job take priority. On the one hand, my lack of a degree hasn’t impacted my current career nor other random endeavors I’ve had up until now. Yet, on the other hand, I recently came across a requirement that had me scratching my head a bit.
As someone who writes about personal finance, I’ve occasionally wondered whether I should take my interest in finance to the next level by actually becoming a Certified Financial Planner (CFP). After all, even if I don’t pursue the career of a formal financial advisor, I think it’d be interesting to merge my current POV and review content with the authority that comes from being a CFP.
Unfortunately for me, it doesn’t look like that will be happening any time soon. Why? Well, because in addition to completing specific coursework and passing a test, becoming a CFP requires that you have a Bachelor’s degree or higher. Contrary to what you might assume, this degree doesn’t have to be in finance or business but, instead, can be in anything. To me, this begs the question… why even bother? If you don’t care what the degree is in, why care about a degree at all?
Although this CFP discovery was the impetus for my annoyance, it got me thinking more about the current college system and where it goes wrong. Perhaps more importantly, it’s also got me reconsidering whether I’ve hurt myself by not already having a degree.
The cost of college
As you’ve surely aware, student debt has been a major issue in the past several years — and things have really come to a head this year thanks to President Biden’s loan forgiveness order and the Supreme Court’s blockage of said order. While I know college is expensive and has been for some time, I wanted to see just how much I’d need to pay if I wanted to get a four-year degree. Specifically, I looked at online institutions (or at least schools that offered online options).
From what I found, assuming that the handful of credits I earned in my youth were not valid for transfer, I’d likely be looking at spending a minimum of $40,000 for a four-year degree. Keep in mind, this is on the low end and doesn’t include books or other fees. Also, just because that’s the quote I’m seeing today doesn’t mean that prices won’t increase from semester to semester. Furthermore, while this estimate is based on my completing a certain number of credits per year, any delays on my part could also raise the total cost.
Another issue I have with four-year colleges is that, when you look at it, much of the courses colleges require at the outset are known as “general education.” This means that students will need to complete classes in core competency categories, such as math, science, and English. Cynically, I see this as an extension of high school before you actually get to the college aspect of things.
If one of the primary reasons that students attend college is to get a good job, why must they wait months and spend thousands of dollars before they can truly dive into material related to their major? Yes, I realize that there are at least some non-gen ed courses offered to freshmen and sophomores — but the fact remains that these requirements add time and money to the degree-granting process.
You know how you see commercials for trade schools on late-night or mid-day hours advertising the different courses you could take? Although some of these for-profit institutions have bad reputations (including some that have disappeared overnight and left students in a lurch), I’ve always thought that they made a logical pitch If you want to study to be a paralegal or something similar. Want to repair HVAC systems? They’ll teach you to fix HVAC systems. It almost makes too much sense.
This makes me wonder why there can’t be similar programs for a wider variety of careers. Funny enough, what struck me about my recent discovery is that, if anything, I would have thought that CFP certification would serve as a model for how things could be done better. Want to make sure that the person advising you on your finances knows what they’re talking about? Have a trusted organization test them on matters directly related to that topic! Sounds great… if only that were the case. Apparently, in order to help others understand their student debt, I’ll need to spend tens of thousands of dollars and acquire my own debt (yes, I’m getting extra sassy now).
The college experience
Perhaps one of the reasons why college has long been pitched as a must-do for high school graduates has less to do with the actual learning and more of what we’ve come to know as the “college experience.” Depending on who you ask, this includes meeting a diverse group of new people, having your ideas challenged, and, eventually, making connections that could come in handy once you reach the “real world” and begin your career. There’s a lot to be said for these concepts and, to some degree, I do think these things are all important. But where does that leave 37-year-olds like myself who now desire the option to take college courses but no longer need the college experience?
In many ways, this is where online college curriculums have been extremely useful. Sadly, though, as I noted, even these institutions can cost a pretty penny. Thus, I’m right back where I started, wondering…
Do I need a degree?
Even after completing this entire rant, I still don’t 100% know the answer to this question. However, I’ll simply stand by this assertion: I shouldn’t need a degree.
In today’s world, there are many ways that people can learn — and that learning doesn’t need to be confirmed with a piece of paper.
I realize that I’m not saying anything here that hasn’t been said before — nor do I think that things will suddenly change. But, while the frustration I feel knowing that (at least under the current rules) a career option is closed off to me might occasionally lead me to consider going back to school, ultimately, I don’t regret not previously pursuing a degree. Instead, I believe it’s the system that is regrettable, not my path.