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College Degrees Are Worth It

I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of the Incarnate Word in the Spring of 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Arts.

In the months leading up to my graduation, I read many articles claiming that my communication arts degree offered the worst return on investment. I believed this and was very discouraged. And like many college grads, I too let the burden of student loan debt weigh on my mind.

I get it. I have felt it.

Debt is a sore subject with me. I now have an aversion to it. I have become hypercritical of my purchases and scrutinize value to expense to a fault.

It has taken me awhile that realize that value is not numerical. Not everything fits into a spreadsheet. However, I have learned how to crunch numbers better than I ever did before.

Depending on where you are at in life, you’ll defend or decry the value of having a degree. Some dream of having a degree, some declare their value to be useless, and others promote them as the best way forward.

If you work at the university, it is in your best financial interest to defend the value of the degree, no matter what the cost. You may also value degrees because you have invested a lot of time and energy into earning a few of your own. To believe it all in vain would be devastating.

I have been on both sides of the fence regarding my degree’s value. I defend its value because I have one. I rationalize in favor of it because my debt and time would have been in vain, and that would be a shocking reality. But, I also despise the debt that earning said degree put me in.

Since graduating in 2013, I have had time to evaluate my degree’s return on investment, my emotions surrounding its debt burden, and the intangible outcomes that may not have happened without it. I have concluded that this is a multisided proposition.

There are pros and cons. To have and not to have.

I could be without the debt, but I would have missed out on the experience. And when this life is over, my finances will be of little concern. I cannot take my money with me. However, I will be glad that I at least lived, because maybe that was my only opportunity to have experienced what I did.

Assuming I remember or care at all about my youthful experiences. But, I believe I will.

Meeting girls was incredible. I eventually met Kara, my soon to be wife. Without attending UIW, my life might have been entirely different.

And that is not to say that I wouldn’t have met someone anyway, outside of the university, but whichever path you choose is the one for you. As humans, we crave a right and wrong answer. Life is not always so binary.

The more you try to make the right decision, the best decision, the further away you’ll feel from it. Because making the best decision is elusive. It is a rainbow that cannot be reached. Run towards it, drive towards it, fly towards it, you’ll never catch up. Perhaps, making the best decision possible is like catching that rainbow. It is an illusion. The grass is always greener on the other side.

That is not to say there are no objective measures to weigh your decision-making process. There are all kinds of metrics to help you make your decision. But, what I want to caution you of is the fallacy that one metric tells the whole story.

The metrics will eventually contradict each other.

If your degree gains its value by the wealth you obtain or lose with debt, then what would it be worth if it were free? Surely then more education is always welcomed?

And if it is the knowledge that you value, couldn’t you also learn from struggling with real-world problems until stumbling on the solution? Real experiences lead to discoveries that, in turn, inspired your textbook.

Some believe that knowledge is obtained by what is already written and widely accepted. But even textbooks were new at one point.

Education is not a building; education is learning. Learning can happen anywhere and does not necessarily need an admission fee. But some lessons are expensive.

The expense could be material, emotional, or time. Even an opportunity to happen upon a particular discovery could be rare.

That is why knowledge is a treasure. The university gives these unearned treasures like a banquet.

What takes minutes for your professor to explain may have taken the original discoverer their whole life to find. With so many treasures in one place, what a heaven the university must be to all those who were only able to earn a single gem of knowledge.

In a way, the university is a vault filled with incredible knowledge that took years and many lives to obtain. As a student, we are allowed to take from this vault as much as our minds can remember, a truly priceless opportunity.

Now we go out into the world with this knowledge that we possess, and others do not. We paid our dues for this knowledge with our time to learn it and our student loan debt. But even so, it would have been far more costly to obtain just one of the many lessons learned if on our own.

The one who discovers first sacrificed a lot to find it.

The medication that we pull off the shelf was accessible. Just wander into the correct aisle and present it to the cashier. But the group of scientists who originally came up with the drug, that was a journey—a very laborious and costly one.

That is what your degree is; that is your education—an opportunity to glean as much unearned knowledge as possible. Because you could attempt to do it all on the outside, but it would be almost impossible by yourself.

So what about the Internet?

Where do you think those answers originated?

All of us are further ahead because of the unearned knowledge that was shared with us. Even our ability to read and write in a language that we did not invent ourselves furthered us along.

That is what the university is about, furthering us all collectively. Once graduated, the world may not recognize your value at first. And you may not even realize what you have to offer, but the absence of what you provide in the world and the abundance of which you have is your value.

Two salespeople go to the county where the citizens do not wear shoes. One runs back home in a panic wanting to leave in fear that no one is interested in his product. The other salesperson requests all the shoes he can get sent over because he recognizes the opportunity. The need is the opportunity.

Various industries need your field of study.

For me, my field was communication. How many industries struggle with effective communication? It’s an essential need.

You’re needed, and your degree is worth it.