Posted on: May 13, 2023 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Graphic by James Landgraf

By Jackson Edwards, Photo Editor

To get or not to get a college degree? That is the question for a growing number of young adults.

As we step further from the pandemic, school systems and the workforce are continuously evolving, changing the way people see the value of a college education. During the pandemic, colleges saw a rapid decrease in student enrollment, and many colleges have yet to see pre-pandemic numbers return. But overall enrollment has been declining for more than a decade.

A study last year explored reasons people chose not to go to college, finding that “38 percent of students didn’t enroll because of fears about the cost of college and amassing debt, 27 percent felt college would be ‘too stressful’ or ‘too much pressure,’ 26 percent believed it was more important to work and earn money, and 25 percent felt uncertainty about their career trajectories and what they wanted to study.”

On top of those factors, some don’t believe that a degree is necessary to be successful. One such person is Moraine business and marketing student Lexi Parquette.

“Being a business owner doesn’t require a degree,” Parquette said. “The classes may help me in the long run, but they aren’t required. I work for someone who has absolutely no college degree and I don’t think he even went to college.” Despite this, she says his business is thriving and extremely successful.

Graphic by James Landgraf
Average lifetime earnings based on level of education. Source: Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce

Some data shows that college isn’t a requirement to make a stable living. People with an associate’s degree or only some college completed can earn more than the bottom half of bachelor’s degree holders, according to a study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

Moraine dean of enrollment services Dave Marcial says that money can be an obstacle when pursuing higher education.

“Financial barriers obviously are something that impacts many families,” he said.

According to CollegeIllinois, the average cost of college tuition in Illinois has more than tripled since 1990, making it difficult for some students to pay off college-related debts.

Enrollment numbers are close to half as much as they were 10 years ago, according to Moraine history professor Joshua Fulton: “Part of it is the cost of college is just overwhelming for many individuals.”

There’s also a shift in cost between K-12 and college to adjust to.

“Once you get into college and higher education, now it’s one in which they are responsible for,” Marcial said. “It really is an investment in which we want students to understand the value.”

The value of college used to be viewed differently, with some families labeling it as optional.

Graphic by Emily Stephens
Data provided is specific to state of Illinois. Source: Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce

“My parents didn’t press upon me the value of a college education,” said Margaret Tenerelli, administrative assistant in the Speaking & Writing Center. “You can go or you can not go; you can work full time or you can go to college. It won’t matter.” 

With certain careers now requiring a college degree, some are still seeing the importance of higher education. 

“In my own opinion, I do think it is worth it to go to college because I need it for what I want to do,” liberal arts transfer student Noah Nasir said. “It mainly depends on what you want to do because certain careers or jobs require some sort of college degree and some only require a high school diploma, so I can see it going both ways.” 

Nasir also acknowledges that it may not be a necessity to live a financially stable life.

“There are plenty of people who have become successful without even attending college or have attended and dropped,” he continued.

What are students not seeing in the value of a college education? Marcial believes it is important to understand “what is a student’s ‘why.’ Why are you coming to us? Once you know as a person why you want to come here, we can help navigate the value, what it’s going to take, and realistic outcomes.”

Marcial relates his own story to the situation: “I think as a professional of color and from a first-generation family, one of the things that my parents instilled in me is long-term planning. I think sometimes students don’t think long-term.”

It gives you an opportunity to know parts of yourself that you might never have knownIt opens a whole new world.”

Margaret Tenerelli

To get students to see the value in a college education, there may need to be more involvement on campus and less online learning, lower tuition costs, or maybe a wider selection of career-related opportunities. 

Or it may be about showing students the value of a college education beyond the mere transaction of degree equals making money–letting them see the value for them in discovering who they are as people in relation to the world around them.

Tenerelli broke past her parents’ “college optional” philosophy and realized the benefits after sending her own daughter to college. Tenerelli herself didn’t attend until she was 45 years old.

“It gives you an opportunity to know parts of yourself that you might never have known,” she said. “It’s not just the education, it’s the socialization, meeting other people who have different ideas and values than you. It opens a whole new world.”