I’ve been surprised lately by the number of people I’ve met who aren’t sure if college is really worth it. Many of these people have told me they believe it would be a waste of money to pay for something they might never use – especially if they change their mind about their career path later on.
The group I’m talking about is made up of millennials in their 20s. They’ve seen their friends go to college and end up with little more than a pile of student loans and a degree that opens zero doors. They see their friends living at home with parents, unable to get their own apartments. As a result, they are unsure if they trust this system.
The job market has been lackluster for years. College tuition is at extremely high levels, creating correspondingly high levels of student debt. Older workers are forced to stay in their jobs longer, leaving fewer good jobs for new graduates.
When you think of it this way, the mistrust of higher education makes sense. It can seem that the return on investment doesn’t justify the money spent.
However, this perspective worries me. In today’s workforce, a college degree is often considered the minimum threshold for entry. It’s similar to how a high school diploma was perceived in previous generations. Without one, a job seeker will likely be at a disadvantage.
Very often, the specific degree one has is less important than having one at all. Ask anyone over the age of 40 what they studied in college. There is a decent chance you’ll be surprised by their answer because they ended up switching fields along the way.
When I hear this doubt about the value of college, I think about a number of the older job seekers I’ve met along the way. Early in their careers, they were leaders in their fields. They worked at the same companies for years, building up client bases and very large paychecks. Then one day, the industry shifted. The companies they worked for went out of business, and they were out of work.
Suddenly, these successful, seasoned professionals felt lost. Employers are less interested in them. They have all the right experience and the right knowledge, but they don’t have degrees. They don’t meet the basic requirements. They struggle to find work that will pay enough to maintain their lifestyles.
If you’re struggling to decide about college, remember the long game. Education is expensive, but it’s almost always worth it. Think of how much you’d be willing to pay for a new car because it helps you get around easily. Education gets you places, too.
And if college isn’t for you for whatever reason, consider a trade program. Additional training will almost always put you ahead of your competition and help secure your future.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Memphis Daily News.
Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.