According to a study in the US, 82 percent of 2015 graduates researched their field of choice before determining what major to pursue in college and university. Bearing in mind this statistic with a view of student loans and the 2008 recession, it comes as no surprise that students want to pursue careers that will support them to pay off the huge expense that higher education entails.
Over the past decade or so, conventional wisdom about the usefulness of college education in improving the life chances of young people has come to be questioned with increasing frequency and with growing evidence. This has happened in the US, the UK and India.
Because much of the debate on the topic has its origins in the US, and is often linked to growing student debt, it is necessary to recall some of the claims and counter-claims made by economists, higher education experts and others. At the same time, because a growing number of India’s students attending private colleges and universities – over 60 percent– where the cost of tuition is significantly higher than in public institutions, forcing students and their families to borrow, making the subject matter more relevant for India as well.
Q. Skill or Certificate: Which is more Important?
Any specific degree would not lead to greater success in any job market. Successful individuals have important leadership, technical and teamwork skills. More than two-thirds of individuals who built successful careers within five years after graduation said they did well on academic writing projects. Thus pointing towards two significant follow-up questions: Does the academic structure of tasks and assignments have anything to do with career success? And do these college experiences help people gain specific skills that make them highly suitable for the careers?
“A recruiter goes through cv for about three minutes, not more than that. Skills are of course important. Suppose I am hiring for a media relations manager, I would be more interested in candidates who have strong media relations, have worked in that field for quite some time rather than a candidate who has taken his degree from a prestigious institute but has no skills for the role he/she is applying for,” says Munish Sharma, Proprietor, P L head hunters.
The Foreign Scenario
The debate on the usefulness of college education is argumentative in foreign countries because the cost of education has become more and more exorbitant, leading to student debts of over $1.3 trillion. According to a Goldman Sachs report, students are more contented not attending average institutions and even mediocre universities, especially if they are going to pick for majors such as arts, education and psychology, because the high cost incurred in obtaining a degree is not adequately compensated by initial salaries.
“I believe that experiencing a college environment is essential. It’s a place where one can get introduced to a lot of new directions. Students get a platform to delve deeper into their subjects and there is scope for exploration. Moreover, most colleges provide good resources, for example a library, laboratory, access to various journals and international publications, opportunities to participate in competitions – which might not be accessible to individuals otherwise. Above all, one can interact with experts in the field and receive guidance or mentorship from them. College is a great environment to test one’s skills and learn essential values before stepping into the professional world,” stated AnupriyaKanoi, third year student from NIFT, New Delhi.
Non-traditional Education Options
According to the survey Freelancing in America 2018, freelancers put more value on skills training: 93 percent of freelancers with a four-year college degree say skills training was useful versus only 79 percent who say their college education was useful to the work they do now. In addition, 70 percent of full-time freelancers participated in skill training in the past six months compared to only 49 percent of full-time non-freelancers.
Rapid technological change, combined with rising education costs, have made our traditional higher-education system an increasingly anachronistic and risky path. The cost of education has become so high now that students have reached a tipping point at which the debt incurred often is not outweighed by future earnings potential.
The future of work will not be about degrees, rather skills, and with more inclination towards soft skills, non-traditional education options are proliferating. E-learning sites like Coursera, Udacity or Udemy are present examples of the unpredictable technological progression and disruption.