College Degree – the Only Road to Success?

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The more civilization advances, the more approachable we are to the higher education. The once highly appreciated and rare certification that was only available for the privilege now becomes a must in our modern society. As such, every parent and every government want their children, their young generation to be able to approach higher education and obtain at least a college degree in order to get a “good job”. However, while it is true that a college degree is definitely a good option, it is not an assurance as well as the only way for anyone to get a good job.

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So, first of all, what can be seen as a “good job”? The definition can vary from person to person but in overall, a “good job” is a job in which people can find themselves comfortable carrying out. As such, someone who is not good at math but excels in handcraft art can hardly find any joy or even efficiency in performing accounting tasks; instead, they can spend hours carefully making small hand-made accessories, although the salary of an accountant could exceed that of an artisan and that accountant is a degree-required job while artisan is certainly not. Thus, to that person, a good job is not necessarily a good-paying job and a high degree is not always a necessary requirement for any jobs. Moreover, while college degree becomes more and more like a standard qualification for a lot of jobs, there are still plenty of them in the market that do not require that certification. Jobs like technician, mechanic, and electrician only need a technical certification to be eligible to work while jobs like a farmer and some small entrepreneurs do not even require any degree or certification at all. So, depending on the compatibility with one’s career choice, a college degree is not always a must if one wants to have a good job.

Yet, some people may argue that college degree will ensure a better pay than any lower degree, as well as a better job security. In fact, they do have a point as in the professional market, the higher the degree one can obtain, the higher chance one can get offered a job and the higher the basic salary one can receive. According to a statistical study in 2017 made by Bureau of Labor Statistics, with the average of the unemployment rate lied at 3.6%, those with college degree have better chance of being employed as only 2.5% of bachelor degree holders face unemployment in comparison to 4.6% of high school diploma and to 4% of college goers. Furthermore, a bachelor degree also ensures a median weekly earnings of 1173$, 266$ higher than average and 399$ higher than college goers. Number cannot lie, the data has clearly shown the difference between those with college degree and those who do not possess one.

Unfortunately, while it is clear that college degree definitely holds many advantages over the non-degree, that is only a look from one angle as one’s income is not necessarily come from the same salary scale or from one source only, and thus, in this case, that argument is not completely right either. Here is one example, normally an electrician only needs a technical certificate to be able to work in the industry, so certainly, in comparison to a newly graduated electrical engineer, his basic salary is not as high. However, not having that high degree can also mean that he does not need to shoulder as much time and responsibility, therefore, aside from the daily tasks in the workshop, he is available to receive some side projects to work on, and thus, it is a possibility that he can earn more than a college degree. Another example about this difference comes from the manufacturing industry. For example, in Vietnam and in garment manufacturing industry, a staff-level employee who is fresh graduate often receives a job offer with an hour-based salary settled stably at around 200$ to 250$ per month, in fact, this is also the standard amount for almost every newly graduated student in Vietnam no matter which area he or she joins. On the other hand, a skilled sewing worker, with a product-based salary, is able to make more than a double of the staff’s salary, around 400$ – 500$ per month, depends on the production order, and “surprisingly”, the highest degree these sewing workers possess is middle school or high school degree. Clearly, they do not need some kind of paper of recognition, all they have is their experience, their skills and their ability to turn their effort into a better salary.

Moreover, there always exists a question whether or not the degree in a certain major is worth the time and money to invest in. For example, this is the major that has one of the highest rate of competition in the world, Business Administration, and what does it includes: all the courses ranging from accounting, financial management, production management, technology management, and so on. However, all of them are only taught at the introductory level and they do not have enough in-depth focus. Thus, after graduating, unless they have already had a business or at least a plan to open one, these students from this major always have some difficulty in performing the more technical/specialized tasks. In fact, most of the time, what they can benefit most from their college day is probably the soft skills, while technical knowledge only contributed around 20% at most. Also, look at some example as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, they were admitted to a prestigious college, Harvard, the dream of many people yet they dropped out to stand on their own two feet and they even found their own success without any need for any degree. What can lead us to success is not that gilded paper – it is only a mean, a beginning guide but it is not an almighty tool – but one’s own effort, hard works, sweat, blood, and tears.

However, we also must accept that aside from these above-mentioned cases, having a college degree is very important in many other cases. Obtaining a college degree or higher prove that one is capable of accomplishing more intellectual tasks than others. Thus, for a career that requires more “brain” than “brawn” like teacher, researcher, or many others, a higher degree is not just an option, it is a must in order to ensure the quality of the results they will produce.

Additionally, look at this situation from a parent’s eye, we can understand their point of view. A college degree is the first and foremost step to some so-called “high-class and prestigious careers” such as doctor, engineer, lawyer, businessman/woman, etc. They are certainly high-paying, and for most of these “traditional” Asian families, it is like “hitting two birds with one stone”: the children can obtain such a “prestigious degree”, get a high-paying and respected job, and will supposedly lead a good and enjoyable life while the parents and even the whole family lineage can be proud and can brag about this achievement with others. Or at least, even if they do not get any above-mentioned jobs, a college degree is also a must so they can get a white-collar job – a job in the office rather than any blue-collar one – the “low-class” manual labor-oriented job. This can become a serious problem, especially in many “traditional” Asian families, they have a saying that if the child can succeed his father or even surpass him, his family is certainly a happy one, so, in case the children cannot live up to their parents’ expectation, they become the shame of the family or even the family lineage.

Unfortunately, nowadays, not only parents but also the government wants to step in to decide for their children’s education. As cited by Mike Rustigan in his article “If you’ve got a trade, you’ve got it made”, Former President Obama in one of his speech has declared his expectation for every American to graduate not only from high school but also from college in order to get a high paid job (Rustigan). I do not criticize his wish for a better, wiser generation, however, it seems that Mister former-President did not consider the big picture. Let us look at the current situation in the labor market. In his article, Mike has also pointed out “According to a growing number of demographer and labor experts, the U.S soon will be experiencing a severe shortage of skilled workers. Blue-collar baby boomers are retiring, but schools aren’t preparing the next generation to take their place” (Rustigan). Indeed, we are currently facing a disproportional ratio between the white-collar and blue-collar jobs. While a lot of college graduates are burdening with unemployment and have to make do with part-time, minimum wage jobs to survive, there is a shortage of skilled workers everywhere. It is also the same situation in a lot of countries around the world where each year, hundred thousands of new graduates cannot find a job and suffer from unemployment while thousands of companies complain about the lack of competent employees. This situation also raises another question about the “real” quality and the necessity of college education.

Moreover, there exists an uncertainty if people have considered the case in which if everyone could obtain a college degree, it means that the job competition rate would also increase, by a large margin, and at that time, the chance would turn to those with an even higher degree. So, in order to get a job that once required a college degree now people would need at least a master or higher to be considered. In some ways, it could also be seen as a devaluation of the college degree.

Thus, in order to ensure a balanced society, would it not be better that we should diversify and specialize the degree and certification instead of encouraging people to aim for only the college degree? In reality, every person is different from other, we all have our strength in many different areas: there are those who are good words, those who are better with numbers, etc.; thus, those who can be better at studying they can go on to college or higher school for a degree if that is what they want. Those who are a little slower in studying or who feel that college is not for them can choose to join a vocational or a technical school where they can focus on polishing their skills – if they have already found out their career, their passion – or community college is also another option to help discover one’s strength and weaknesses as well as possible future career – that might not need a college degree.

In short, a college degree is a good option for people to get their dream job, but it is not the only way. There are, in fact, plenty of choices out there for us to help achieve our dream. No matter what others may say or decide for us, our path is our own choice and for that, our success is not built or decided by any gilded paper of recognition but with our own hands, our sweat, tears, and blood.

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