Are University Degrees an Expensive Mistake?

There is a myth that still pervades young university students today that any undergraduate degree is a golden ticket toward success.  The reality is that most of these degrees are not valued in the professional workforce, especially those of the arts and humanities.  A quick google search on “worst college majors” unanimously confirms this.  Those commonly on the list include degrees in English, History, Music, Drama, and Photography (Psychology and Sociology are a lesser mention too).  The reason these degrees are economically useless in today’s western society is a simple output of supply and demand.  If the natural career path of many of these is to become teachers, then there simply exists an oversupply of teachers and not enough demand of students today.  As such,  the younger 20’s generation, become more indebted, unemployed, and less satisfied than ever before.

The blame goes multiple ways.  For one, the public system goes to little lengths to educate high schoolers how to choose a career path and what degrees are viable today.  Secondly, many parents fail to invest important life and decision making skills into their children but rather leave them to choose their own individualistic lifestyle that society promotes.  Thirdly, universities are also at fault for “glamorizing” their degree programs.  Wooing potential students at university fairs with fancy brochures and advertisements is a necessity for their survival. “honest university commercial” would never make mainstream media.  After all, their main interest is to get you to enroll in their programs so that they can get your tuition money.    No students, no university.  Finally, many students themselves have been bought into the notion of self-entitlement.  That is two things.  I am entitled as a human being toward the privileges of living in a home with a secure job.  And less obviously – if I work/study hard enough, I am entitled to be rewarded for it.  Both are not true in today’s society, in God’s economy, and even less so than it was 100 years ago.

The truth of today’s job market is a survival of the fittest.  Nobody is secure, and only “smart” work is rewarded.  Anyone can lose their job in an instant (exception – unionized jobs), and its about pulling the strings to move up the ladder of success.  Many students need to recognize these realities and apply them to their own career decisions.  If the goal of a university degree is strictly career oriented, a large pot of them are an expensive mistake.  But is there a better way to view a degree other than a piece of paper?

I believe there are two schools of thought on this.  One is that you get a degree to get a specific job.  That’s what I did.  Long ago in high school I was a big computer nerd.  I followed in my Dad’s steps to get a computer science degree to become a programmer.  The fit seemed natural because after all, I didn’t mind working with computers and programmers were in high demand (they still are).  My goal was to get the piece of paper, then work for a high-paying company like Microsoft, to which the dream was “sort-of” realized when I did outsourced work for them post graduation.  The Lord graciously blessed my own ambitions and showed me places/people the common man would never have dreamed of (ever worked at the head office of National Geographic?) So then, I had and have a career that is marketable and sustainable.  It started with a practical career plan that matched society’s needs.

But as you already know I later discovered my end goal wasn’t to become a high-paying programmer, but a modest minister of the gospel.  The Lord has shown me that money can only go so far.  So then, I went back to school to get my Pastor’s Degree, that which I could have done right from the get-go.  And yes, I did contemplate being a Pastor in high-school but not until a decade later did it come true.

This brings me to the second school of thought.  You get a degree to find out what you want to do in life.  It’s more about the learning experience than it is about the job.  In the long run, you might discover that you don’t want to do that specific job forever.  Then you might go back to school like I did and try to find that ideal job all over again.  So then stability is not found in monetary value, but stability is found in growing as a person.  It’s not so much that I got a degree in English, than it is I learned so much more about who I am and the friendships I’ve made that makes the degree that much more valuable.  The same I could say about my Master’s degree in Divinity – a piece of paper on the outside, but inside contains all the friendships, heartaches, and blessings of ministering during my studies.  For example, the first week of class I met my future boss and counselled an older single woman who was struggling with relationships.  Those I will never forget as the “God” ordained moments.  I believe we can see our seemingly worthless degrees in a much more deeper light this way.  Start by asking the Lord, “what were you trying to show me all of this?” and end off in a word of praise.  If a degree is a learning experience with the realistic expectation that further training would be needed once the ideal career path has been determined, I don’t think thats necessarily throwing $50k down the drain.

I think both ways of seeing a degree are valid, and I still learn toward the first when I’m talking with students.  Believe it or not, a lot of life is about putting food on the table.  We most live our lives responsibly, by whatever lawful means.  Jesus was a carpenter and David was a shepherd.  They provided for their families using practical means of their time, and we ought to do so to.  For example, why not consider being a plumber, electrician, mechanic, plumber, roofer or painter – the trades will always be around and will always be sustainable.  I have utmost respect for anyone in those careers – they do get dirty, but its good hard work.  That being said, there’s also a lot of room for creativity in today’s job market.  How about starting an online business selling t-shirt brands, or becoming a popular youtube celebrity, or twitter streamer?  or setup an independent writing company?  I’m encouraged to see many young entrepreneurs looking for better avenues and I think we can see more.

Either way, let us choose a degree that honors the Lord, and not honor ourselves as the word commands.   “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31

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4 thoughts on “Are University Degrees an Expensive Mistake?

  1. hello again! I don’t fully agree with the supply v.s. demand in regards to teachers. I think a lot (especially in Ontario) has to do with the funding, hence the many warnings of teachers’ strike. I’ve heard of many in the teaching field that their classes are so large to the point of breaching capacity, yet there are hiring freezes because the school district can’t afford to pay for more teachers to cover extra-curriculars or increase in number of students.
    I think it’s interesting to take a different/new path to find where your interests lie and where God is calling you to serve. If the heart is truly submitting to God’s will, I believe there will be joy in the heart in serving others no matter where God places us. That being said, I’m still struggling in this area.
    My last point, don’t forget Paul was a tent-maker haha

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Connie, you do drive a good point. There’s really two demands to talk about – the perceived demand and the market demand. The former, which you mention is that yes we should have more teachers in the system to reduce class size for a better education system. I agree in an ideal world that should be the case. Then the market demand which is that the TDSB has no money to hire teachers and has to struggle with overcompensated teachers in its system already. Should we push for what we ideally want or allow the market to dictate matters? I would lean on the latter. While I won’t argue the salary of public teachers here, it’s still one of the last bastions of the “golden ticket to success”. So its understandable a lot of aspiring teachers want that piece of the pie, but its a dinosaur system that a very few can get in now. The recent influx of teacher seekers is in partial a result of loosening regulations 10+ years ago when the government said the baby boomers would retire and Ontario would need more teachers. Well guess what those baby boomers refuse to the retire from the school system (afterall, their savings are drained since the economy tanked) and leave the younger generation jobless.

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