Is higher education a good investment?

More and more students are going to university these days with the aim of obtaining better job prospects as a result of their higher education. It is a common thought that going to university broadens your horizon, as it opens a world of opportunities and knowledge not necessarily available to those with a high school certificate. However, in the past, university was only available to a select few, as it was more expensive and only required by a few professions. Though these days university is much more accessible with around 26% of the population (not including those under 15 years old), educated to degree level, in comparison to 6% in 1970.

After the recession of 2008, there has been more discussion around whether university is a worthwhile investment. Students who went to university during this time not only accumulated student loans, but struggled to find work once graduating. This resulted in massive student debts and left students to work jobs they were potentially overqualified for. At the same time, stories came out about students who had dropped out of university to start their own businesses and ended up becoming millionaires. It led to the question being raised, is investing in higher education still a good idea?

In this post, we will explore what the advantages and disadvantages of getting a university degree. We aim to answer the question, is getting a university degree a good investment?

Why is getting a higher education a good idea?

So, what are the benefits of having a higher education? There are clear benefits, for both society and the individual, of going to university, despite some perceived drawbacks. Here we’ll explore how higher education can have a positive impact on the individual obtaining a degree as well as the society at large.

Advantages for the individual

Earn a higher income

Studies show that, overall, those with a higher education will earn more over a lifetime than those without. Sometimes, when applying for jobs, what you studied in your degree doesn’t matter, it just shows that you can commit yourself to something and accomplish a goal. According to The Economist, university graduates aged between 25 and 32 will earn $17,500 more annually than those who did not attend or complete university.

Lower unemployment

Studies from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), show that those with a higher education experience have lower unemployment rates than those without a university degree. The 2014 Education at a Glance report showed that employment among graduates was 80%, while it was only 60% among those without a degree.

Better well-being

Studies show that those with a higher education are more likely to have better health prospects. They are less likely to smoke, more likely to do regular exercise and less likely to experience depression.

Learn valuable life skills

A university environment and course can teach you real life skills that can be useful throughout life. Such skills include taking initiative, leadership skills, research and writing, presentation and speaking, and invaluable social skills. Universities also encourage you to think independently and creatively, as well as develop more in-depth knowledge about a specific subject or several subjects. Nevertheless, the amount that the individual gets out of the degree has a lot to do with the way the individual applies themselves.

Graduate study

Some of the other gains come from the opportunities that having a degree opens you up to in terms of graduate study. Students can fast-track their career and become experts in their field by doing research, higher degrees or masters programs.

Advantages for economy/ society

Educated citizens positively impact society

An educated society is going to function and develop more efficiently. Educated citizens encourage advancement and stability and often problems within society can be a result of ignorance about what is going on within the world at large.

Educated future workforce

Similarly, when many young people get a university education, it creates an educated future workforce. This includes future leaders, and those that will essentially be shaping the future of the world.

Helps to provide jobs for society

Not only does having a university degree improve the prospects of the individual, but can aid in the creation of jobs as well.

Helps with trading and associations with other economies

Educated citizens often gain a better understanding of other cultures. This can be due to the subjects taken in university such as languages and other cultural subjects, but also through connections made with international friends and universities. This eventually assists countries when it comes to trade relations.

Growing knowledge and innovation happening within a society

Young people with a higher education drive innovation and growth within a society. This means societies can benefit from advancements in technology brought about by highly educated generations.

It has a positive impact on taxes and social contributions

Generally, individuals with a higher education are able to obtain quality jobs with salaries that allow them to contribute back to society. Therefore, they can contribute more to government taxes which will benefit society as a whole, and they are less likely to need to depend on government benefits.

Why might getting a higher education be a bad idea?

We’ve had a look at the benefits of getting a university degree, but what are the drawbacks? There are some disadvantages that come with getting a higher education that may outweigh some of the benefits for you.

Disadvantages for the individual

Student debt

Unfortunately, getting a university degree comes with a price. Unless you live in a Scandinavian country where education is free, degrees cost thousands of dollars that could leave you owing a massive debt which can take years to pay off.

You don’t always need a degree

While some jobs necessitate having a university degree, such as medicine or engineering, not all jobs require you to have one. If you have developed skills through work experience, you can generally climb the ladder within that industry or field without a degree. Also, some hands-on jobs, such as trades, need training but don’t require an actual degree. Your need for a university degree is quite dependant on the industry you wish to work in.

Delays time entering the real world

Depending on what course you choose, university degrees can take 3 to 5 years to complete. You could end up spending some of this time studying subjects that are irrelevant and could be considered a waste of time. This is time that could otherwise be spent on starting a business or doing something specifically related to your desired career path.

Many distractions at university

While university is a place for learning, it is also a place where many social activities take place. This can be sources of great distraction when you should otherwise be focusing on your studies. It can be difficult to concentrate and make the most out of your time at university if you are constantly partaking in other ‘extra-curricular’ activities. If you think this could be problematic for you, you could try studying online.

Does not guarantee that you will be fully prepared for the job

While you may gain a lot of knowledge in a certain field and learn plenty of skills it does not necessarily prepare you for the real world. You may not learn the required skills that make you employable meaning you may not be guaranteed to land a job upon graduating.

Disadvantages to society

There is very little information out there about the disadvantages that university education brings to society because there are very few. However, some drawbacks may include the fact that university education is not always as easily accessible to those from lower income backgrounds. If children grow up in a family that struggles with low income, they may not have access to the proper resources to help them excel in school. This means they could potentially fall behind and miss out on opportunities to progress to a higher education.

However, this is not necessarily a result of higher education, though it is associated with a lack of access to it. If the pathway to university was made more accessible to those from lower income backgrounds, it could help people break the poverty cycle they are in.

Things to keep in mind

The type of degree studied can have an impact. For example, arts and humanities may be less likely to earn as high an income as those studying degrees such as engineering and finance.

Some professions require degrees like medical degrees, law degrees, or academia degrees.

Suggestions for the future of higher education

While there are some clear benefits of getting a higher education, some of the drawbacks associated with getting a university degree may deter people from going down that path. Here are some suggestions for the future of higher education that could lead to the its increase in popularity.

Maximize student aid

One way would be to increase the amount of student aid provided by the government to help support students through their studies. This could be in the form of financial support for full-time students or students with children. Another way student aid could have an impact would be through increased subsidisation of degree programs so that they will be less expensive and students will have less debt.

Make higher education more affordable or free

While this may have to be a gradual process, it could be something that Australia could work towards. Some European nations such as Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Germany offer free education. If Australia offered free higher education it may encourage an even greater portion of the population to study, resulting in a more educated society and therefore a better functioning society as a whole.

Improve accessibility of higher education

This is related to making higher education more affordable or free, but is also associated with helping students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain better access to higher education. This could be done through government intervention within disadvantaged schools and implementing programs to help educate students about the different programs available.

Change the way students are measured in terms of their readiness to graduate

Rather than measuring the amount of credits students obtain, they should be assessed on how well they have achieved and mastered certain outcomes. This will ensure that students graduate with the necessary skills for employment.

Structured pathways

This is a relatively new model which helps to guide students through their academic program by providing them a pathway through their degree. It helps to outline to students the key points throughout their degree. The model is supposed to decrease the dropout rate and increase academic performance as students are clear about the goals they are working towards.

Tutoring and academic coaching services

Having this facility available will prevent students who are falling behind from dropping out. It means that students who are struggling will be able to improve their performance with the assistance of tutors so they can get over any hurdles they might be experiencing throughout the course.

Digital student services

If university institutions can deliver services that include academic advice, counselling, library resources, course registration and financial aid information on a digital basis it might assist students who have other commitments such as families, jobs and other responsibilities.

Greater preparation for high school leavers

This is another way to help decrease the dropout rate. If some preparation for university is done in high school this might prevent school-leavers feeling so unprepared.  Another option would be to offer a type of bridging course between high school and university to help students brush up on certain subjects while helping them to succeed.

Ultimately, there are both benefits and drawbacks to getting a university degree. It’s undeniable that the advantages of getting a university education outweighs the disadvantages for both the individual and society. Nevertheless, it can depend on the individual situation. Getting a higher education improves prospects for the individual and society overall, despite the drawbacks. However, there could still be improvements made in the higher education system. That way society could get the most out of university education and so can the individuals.

So, tell us, what do you think? Is higher education worth it? Did you go to university?

What do you think is stopping kids from enrolling?