Debating the value of a college degree

Some say a college degree is the new high school diploma — everyone’s got it.

Kia Farhang

Greg Pillsbury went to college because his father told him to.

“He said, ‘It doesn’t matter what your degree is,’” Pillsbury said. “‘Just get it.’”

After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a sociology degree, Pillsbury worked as a salesman for six years before opening Burrito Loco in Dinkytown.

While many University students feel a college degree is the new high school diploma, federal data shows college graduates still earn more than their high school-educated peers.

A college degree no longer sets a job applicant ahead of the pack, said psychology sophomore Kaja Switalska. She said as more people go to college, the job market becomes more competitive.

“OK, I have a bachelor’s degree — so do 10,000 other people,” Switalska said.

In 2011, Minnesota high school graduates over age 25 earned a median of about $29,200, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Minnesotans in the same age range with bachelor’s degrees earned about $48,800.

As technology changes, employers expect workers to have more skills they learn in college, said Joe Ritter, an associate professor of applied economics.

He said more young people should seriously consider attending college, even if they have to take out loans to do so.

“At the margins, more 18-year-olds should be choosing two- or four-year degrees,” Ritter said.

Not all students agree.

“I feel sometimes a college degree isn’t necessary,” advertising junior Tiffany Ng said.

Sometimes it seems the networking and connections that happen in college are more important than what’s learned in the classroom, she said.

But Ng said college is a good place to find internships.

“Most companies are looking for students,” she said.

Cole Pulice, who graduated from the University in 2011, stressed the importance of networking while in school.

“When you’re in college you have access to so many resources,” Pulice said.

Still, he added, students shouldn’t assume a degree will land them the perfect job.

College students in ‘a different category’

Students make good employees because they often bring new skills to the job, said Skott Johnson, president of the Dinkytown Business Association and owner of Autographics Printing.

Johnson said his student employees taught him how to use computers when the technology was new.

“I’m always looking for other skills they have,” Johnson said.

Because he operates a small business, Johnson said he can take the time to consider other skills, like communication and organization, when hiring workers.

Ritter said those abilities can often help students get a job even when they don’t have a degree in a related field.

“[A degree] signals to employers that you were able to complete a college education,” he said. “That puts you in a different category.”

A college education shows employers you can think critically, Ritter added, which is necessary in every job.

Pillsbury, said students should get a degree and find any job they can.

“It’s easier to get a job when you have a job, and it’s easier to have a job when you have a degree,” Pillsbury said.

A job applicant with a degree will always have an advantage over one who doesn’t, Pillsbury said.

“Besides, you’re not going to get serious about stuff until you turn 22 or 23 anyway.”