The Broken College Calculator

19 Oct

In the Sept. 24, 2009, New York Times Magazine’s “The College Calculation”, David Leonhardt attempts to evaluate how much a college education actually matters in the long run. Skeptics point out that a college education really isn’t the determining factor in how successful an individual is in the work force, and pro-college advocates argue that a college education deeply impacts your future profession. With the current recession, Leonhardt states that it is more debatable than ever whether college is worth it.

It seems like things just don’t add up. With education at the top of the budget chopping block, students are funneling more and more money into their tuition bills and getting less and less in return. A hard-earned degree was supposed to be worth the four years of stress and studying, not to mention the lifelong coffee addiction. Teachers and parents described post-graduation like they would a promised land, where any job your baccalaureate heart desired would land in your lap with the simple flick of a tassel.

Besides the mounting evidence that a college education is not an investment that will pay itself back, there is more to the collegiate experience than merely sitting in a classroom. The independence I gained, the friends I made and the desire for knowledge sparked within me is priceless. I would do it all again in a heartbeat, even as I work two part-time jobs that are completely unrelated to my undergraduate area of study.

It may just be that the criteria we use to judge a person’s success–money–is the single thing that is flawed in this educational equation. There is no unit of measurement for happiness, social skills or work ethic. It is just assumed that these things positively correlate with income. You need only dust off your introductory statistics textbook to recall that correlation does not imply causation. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t remember this basic statistical property. ANOVA and t-tests are probably concepts that have been rendered largely unnecessary since you’ve graduated.

Maybe the skeptics are on to something.


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