College degrees no longer single ‘golden ticket’ for real world

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It’s no secret that the job market isn’t exactly “stellar” these days, especially for just-graduated college students. New statistics seem to be emerging constantly, proclaiming the minuscule percentage of grads who are actually able to pursue careers in the fields they’ve spent the past four to five years of their lives studying, leaving many degree-holders in jobs they’re either “over-qualified” for or not passionate about.

Receiving a college degree has been professed as the “golden ticket” to the real world for decades, ensuring students that the thousands of dollars and endless hours spent achieving said status will be rewarded with a high-paying job, a house in the suburbs and a white picket fence. So, if young people going through the painstaking process of a higher education are still having trouble landing a profession, what gives?

While attaining a degree may not necessarily mean a direct line to a high-end job these days, it also doesn’t mean young adults can just bypass the college experience all together. Generally speaking, a bachelor’s degree is required for almost any job you can apply for, making it what I consider a “necessary evil.”

With that in mind, it’s also important to note that because college degrees are now basically the norm, soft skills (those you can’t pick up in the classroom) are often what makes an everyday college graduate employable. It almost seems like a catch-22: even though your academics aren’t what is setting you apart in the workforce, they’re still essential in being qualified for employment.

The thing is, getting a four-year degree hasn’t always been the norm. Back in the day, receiving as much as a high school diploma was a big deal. But, you all know how the story goes: throughout the years, the number of students attending post-secondary school began to increase until, finally, it was deemed a necessary part of entering the professional workforce. Now, it seems a bachelor’s degree has more or less become the new high school diploma.

This “degree inflation” has become an epidemic across the nation, causing the pursuit of even higher education to be perceived as worthy in the real world. This, in turn, increases the appeal of attending graduate school for a master’s degree for many. In fact, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute, between 2007-11, about 98 percent of job gains went to advanced degree holders, meaning our nation has essentially created a “grad school economy.”

While this trend is incredibly frustrating for those of us who have grown up believing graduating from college would be the fast-track to success, I don’t think it makes getting a four-year degree obsolete; it simply means future college students and graduates are going to have come up with more creative ways to become successful.

For example, many experts are preaching the importance of entrepreneurship in our current economic state. An article by Gary Shapiro, published by Forbes on Dec. 27, 2013, even suggests some of the most successful entrepreneurs our country boasts today are either holders of degrees from smaller, two- or four-year schools, dropped out of college before receiving their degree or didn’t attend college at all.

Additionally, it seems since attaining a bachelor’s degree is the new standard, companies may be looking for skills one can’t gain from classwork alone. According to a Nov. 10, 2013 Time magazine article by Martha White, one of the major reasons college grads can’t get hired has nothing to do with degrees, and more to do with communication and interpersonal skills that make up the core of office life. So, even though having some sort of degree does seem to be necessary to be hired, the more intangible and immeasurable facets that make up a desired employee tend to be much more valuable than the classes he or she passed during their time at a university.

All in all, while I do feel this “inflation” of degree standards is unfair for students, I also believe it unfortunately doesn’t change the fact that a college degree is an imperative facet of job eligibility in our country. Four-year degrees are not valueless in our society; they have just become the most basic qualification for almost all career fields. With a little creativity, developing and maintaining one’s soft skills outside the classroom, I fully believe bachelor’s degree holders can still be successful in the years following their graduation.

The views expressed in this column are the opinion of the author and do no necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Collegian.

Kaitlyn Dewell is a senior in mass communications. Please send all comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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