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Friday, December 03, 2021
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An evaluation of a modern college degree amidst midterm season

With the onset of midterms upon the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, stress levels are undeniably soaring. For those similar to myself, previous midterm weeks have consisted of excessive caffeine intake, countless office hours visits and many sleepless nights. 

For far too long I have taken to the habit of prioritizing my grades above my mental health and at the sacrifice of my social life. Grades for me have always been the end all be all. In speaking on behalf of my experiences, this year has been a whirlwind of commitments and assignments. At the risk of foreseeable burnout with the mental pressure ahead, I have set out to evaluate the worth of a college education.

Our society feeds youth the unshakeable message that we need to do well in high school to get into a good college, and do well in college to get a good job. Under this line of reasoning, midterms and finals week become pressure cooking events that seem crucial to our life's success. 

In practice, this mentality is often far from the complete picture.

Students with perfect marks do well financially, but more often students with a few blemishes on their record reach the highest echelons of our economy. Mastery of college courses does not equate to mastery in the professional realm. 

Still, the greatest reason students of the twenty-first century are pursuing a college degree is “to be able to get a better job.” Simultaneously, the number of students going to college to “make more money” has increased by 28.3% from 1971 to 2014.

A college degree is perceived as an occupational investment. Nonetheless, nearly half of all college graduates are employed within occupations that do not require a degree. While those with a college degree are still employed at higher rates than those without one, higher education does not guarantee a superior job. 

The problem is that going to college is no longer unique. In 1965, only 5.92 million Americans were pursuing higher education, positively differentiating educated job applicants. Today, there are nearly 20 million enrolled students, more than triple an increase.

Modern grade inflation has raised the average GPA by .63 over the past sixty years. Anything above a 3.5 is good in the eyes of an employer. Progressively inflating grades has allowed the majority of college students to attain this benchmark.

As things stand, the idea that going to college and performing well will ensure a life of prosperity is an outdated folktale. Earning a college degree and attaining a high GPA is not special. Earning a college degree and attaining a high GPA is the standard. 

Ironically, most adults years out of college struggle to recall anything they learned in their courses but remember the people and experiences easily. It is irrational to claim that a college degree is for its educational value or headway in the job applicant pool when the education is forgotten, but the experiences remain clear.

The real value in 21st-century college education is the connections and personal growth that follow you for a lifetime. 

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As much as 80% of job positions are acquired through these connections

Attending university provides students with a unique social opportunity to meet hundreds of new people from all across the world, enabling affiliations with people who have countless different mindsets, upbringings and talents. 

Over two-thirds of people meet their closest friends in college, growing one's set of loyal companions and enhancing one's network for employment opportunities. A college degree or a high GPA alone will never triumph over the applicant who is buddies with the CEO.

Universities also provide their students with extensive connections from their growing alumni associations. These organizations are full of employers looking to give back by utilizing current students and recent graduates. Doubtlessly, many factors are taken into consideration in hiring decisions, but being from the same college as a potential employer creates an unmatched connection that is more than enough to get through the door. 

At the academic level, forcing college students to declare a major, a passion they desire to pursue, allows students to narrow their career paths. In this process, 80% of students change their major at least once and more than half change their major three times. This development is paramount, ensuring students are pursuing a career path that interests them. 

Most life lessons, however, are absorbed outside of the classroom. College represents the first time students are living on their own. In having complete control over their schedules, students can absorb themselves in extracurriculars or lock themselves in the library. Everything in college is up to the individual, forcing students to learn independence, communication, time management, among other skills. 

If college was just for gaining a degree, there would not be anything problematic with online learning. The uproar to return students to campus during the onset of COVID-19 verifies the importance of college for personal growth and development. 

A college degree, and the accolades that come with it, are a mere checkmark for your resume.  The connections and exposure along the way are the invaluable takeaways from college that make us different and prepare us for life. 

College is four short years that we need to make the most of while it lasts. Not getting your dream job of the future will not be because you got a C in organic chemistry. However, it may very well be because you missed out on social experiences and extracurricular involvement to earn that C.

So as midterms progress, I for one, am going to try my best to remove my ingrained obsession for perfection. The mentality that perfect grades are essential for life success is toxic, degrading and inaccurate. Study hard and prepare well, but realize so long as we graduate in good standing, we are in the same position as millions of other graduates. 

Em-J Krigsman is an Opinion Editor for The Daily Cardinal. She is a rising sophomore studying Political Science and Journalism. Do you agree that a college degree is no longer for its educational value? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.  

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Em-J Krigsman

Em-J is an Opinion Editor for The Daily Cardinal, and is also a member of the Editorial Board.

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