By Tamar Honig
While history has been sprinkled with free spirits and unconventional thinkers since the beginning of time, our contemporary day and age seems to be experiencing a noticeable boom in individuals seeking to take, in the phrasing of Robert Frost, the road less traveled. Among a generation thoroughly fascinated by the concept of “hipsterism,” there are droves of young people perpetually pursuing new ways to be alternative, innovative, and original. Applied to the idea of higher education, this unconventional mindset has led many to ask: is college still worth it?
The question of whether it’s necessary or worthwhile to go to college is a difficult one to dissect, but one thing that’s sure is that more and more people are asking it. Advocates of obtaining a college education stress that it is an essentially mandatory ticket to a successful career and successful life. But is this a universal truth? For a wave of university-age skeptics, it is not. Those who might face criticism for dropping out of or altogether not attending college have a solid list of role models to justify their risky move. After all, it worked for the founders of Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Dell. These highly successful entrepreneurs are hailed by popular culture as self-made zillionaires who struck gold by rejecting the conventional route of fulfilling a college education.
Beyond the classic argument of “If Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college and still made the Forbes billionaires list at age 23, so can I,” there are also those who contend that some students simply function better treating the world as their classroom and can gain more valuable knowledge from real experience than from lecture halls and libraries. To some college critics, those four years are viewed as a waste of time, a means to get ahead in the rat race of life rather than gain knowledge and, more importantly, wisdom. Still, many educators and others dismiss the idea as dangerous and unrealistic.
While college is being increasingly portrayed as overrated, it’s important to ask if common sense has also become overrated. While there are exceptions to every rule, the general fact is undeniable that the more income you earn, the more likely you are to have gone to college. Even factoring in the debt with which many people graduate, studies show that college is still a highly worthwhile investment. According to a report by the College Board, the long-term payoff from earning a college degree is growing, despite rising tuition and student-loan debt levels. The report also affirmed that workers with a college degree earned much more and were much less likely to be unemployed than those with only a high school diploma. Even during the recession, a degree offered protection, as shown by the substantially lower rate of unemployment among college graduates compared to high school graduates. In other words, education pays.
But what about the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world? Bill Gates? Steve Jobs? Yes, it’s true: a handful of dropouts have been wildly successful, and they will always be pulled out of the arsenal of adamant college critics. But the reality is that these billionaire innovators are exceptionally talented individuals, and what worked for them should not be viewed as a golden example for every person seeking a prosperous future. In fact, the notion that university-age students would be better off spending their time and money pursuing something other than a college education can be quite misleading, as college is for many an utterly unique time when doors are opened, opportunities presented, and valuable experiences gained.
It’s important to remember that a college education is not simply a stepping stone on the path to finding a job and getting rich. It is an enriching experience that introduces young people to passions, friendships, and life skills to which they might never have otherwise been exposed. Learning in college and learning in life need not be considered so mutually exclusive. Here in Briarcliff Manor, we are fortunate enough to have a very high rate of students continuing their education in college. And while that may mean, at least by our community’s standards, that all my classmates and I will not be taking the road less traveled, I firmly believe it will still make all the difference.