Does a Degree Truly Indicate Candidate Quality?

I am not stating that University degrees are entirely worthless, but that contrary to popular belief, the value of a degree should be dramatically reduced.
 
I’d like to point out that 

  1. I’m not claiming that not having a degree is better.
  2. I understand some young adults lead rather sheltered lives and simply aren’t ready for the real world. University could be required in some cases as the bridge between adolescence and adulthood.
  3. I understand certain degrees are essential to some fields. The following is mainly my experience of students studying subjects such as Politics, Economics, History, Sociology, Media, Art, Film and Philosophy.
The University degree (and the position of that university in the ranks) can propel you further in life, increase your value, and ultimately, bag you the job at the end.

How is that possible with virtually no real-work experience?

 
Because of the qualities universally deduced from the term ‘degree-holder’; hard-worker, organised, team player, critical thinker, skilled, independent, experienced, respects authority, well-disciplined.. and so on, and the impact this has on the ‘non-degree-holder’, the one who resigns himself to a life of burger-flipping (which, by the way, takes a considerable amount of all the above).
 

The point?

 
Employers should evaluate the value of an applicant without the credentials of a traditional degree, rather than simply having computers filter them out.
 

Why bother with those losers/dropouts/idiots/*insert stereotype of a non-degree-holder here*?

 
Because the presupposed qualities of a degree-holder are not absolute. In my experience, many students are the most lazy, disorganised, idle, unskilled, dependent, inexperienced, disrespectful, and undisciplined people I’ve ever come across. Of course there are exceptions, but the students I’ve lived with both in halls and off-campus waste the majority of their time while throwing both their student loans and their parents money into learning only the theory of the workplace.
 

What ‘Degree-holder’ means to me

 
The ability to squeeze a term and/or year into the 1-2 weeks before deadline, producing some kind of assessment, be that an essay, report or exam, that regurgitates everything into a format that passes the set criteria, and voilà! (Plus, bad grades are entirely the result of a bad department, not ones own poor effort, of course!). I wrote four assignments the night before they were due and received marks between 68% and 75%- does this make me a good quality candidate in the workplace?
 

Status

 
The degree-holder simply waves a copy of their BA as a signal or status of candidate quality – yet that piece of paper does not necessarily provide the employer with someone who has the skills needed for that job. So long as employers advertise jobs to require a degree, the filter will remain in place. I can’t help but wonder, since attaining a degree requires a significant amount of money, are we really just using money to determine a persons value?

Me

 
I have enrolled and left university twice for different reasons, first time due to personal reasons, the second…. because I woke up one day and thought “What the hell am I doing with my life?”.
I refuse to believe that I am less valuable than my peers just because I don’t have a signed piece of shiny paper.

 

 
What do you think, does a degree truly indicate candidate quality? Or should the value of a degree be reduced?
 

Hi! I'm Sarah. I dropped out of university tired with the mundane life I was living in England. Now I'm an aspiring ex-pat of the world, having already lived and worked in Vietnam, Italy and Maldives. I'm using this blog to document my experiences and hopefully inspire others!

10 Comments

  1. I understand you. Sometimes degrees are not everything. There are exceptions like people who want to become a doctor or lawyer etc… Then yes you might need those degrees but a lot of jobs really shouldn’t require a bachelor or masters but maybe prefer it if anything. I am a hands on person so if you show me how to do something once or twice I learn it very fast once I repeatedly do it. So a degree for me is a waste of money but you know what I did it anyway and now going for my Masters because I keep hearing people say I can not get a really good paying job without a Masters and my fear of not doing it and then looking back like I should have is what makes me do it but I really do not want to be in grad school right now and my motivation is not there. I have loans of over $45000 and counting with Grad school and for what? Am I gonna get a job that pays $75-85000 to help me pay off my loans somewhat? I do not remember anything I learned in Undergrad and I barely remember anything from my first semester of Grad school which was just last year… I now work in Financial Aid and there’s no degree that will teach you this position. It’s training and hands on so why do they still have bachelor’s degree required? That I really don’t know. So I wasted a lot of my time and money that I will eventually owe back to the government for nothing because I don’t remember anything and i’m making way under what my loans will end up. I am a hands on/train me type of worker/learner so for me I could do many jobs that require a degree without having that degree or experience. Just train me and I will be able to do the same thing or even more than someone with a degree in that filed. Great post by the way

    1. Wow, but congratulations on getting onto a post grad course, what are you studying?

      One thing that interested me was that I’ve heard if you’re in a profession long enough, maybe 3-4 years I’m not sure, you can apply for a Masters degree without having a BA- this amazes me. I heard this from a friends brother who has worked in a bank for the last 4 years after leaving school around 16/17. He’s been accepted to study Finance or something similar at university in London…. very interesting for people like me who have shoved a BA where the sun don’t shine! A masters is way more specific, to the point, and only a year (sometimes 2)… I admire you for going ahead but I think you should want to do it for the passion you have of whatever it is… that’s why people used to just do a masters in order to specialise, like a lawyer specialising in Property or Criminal Law, or a teacher wanting to specialise to a specific age group, etc etc. But now if everyone is doing one just in order to keep up with everyone else doing one… that my friend is a bit disheartening. I have no doubt your studies may be very important to your future success, especially if you’re looking for an authoritative position as of course such credentials are well respected (at the moment anyway).

      Don’t be another person trudging through life under societal pressures, relatively unhappy most of the time. Your BA has got you to where you are now. In much the same way mine got me here; if I hadn’t have gone, I wouldn’t have left early, and I doubt I’d be the strong person I am today. We’ve only got one little life so just make it the life you can be proud of when you’re old. Giving up university is not something I’m proud of… not yet anyway.

  2. I am very disillusioned with the college industrial complex. Just a bit about myself, I did very well in High School and could have gone to a number of good colleges but I didn’t have the money, even after scholarships. It turns out merit only goes half way if you’re not an athlete or the valedictorian. It doesn’t help your financial aid when your family is financially secure and you’ve made a nominal income waiting tables throughout high school. So, being the financially savvy person that I was, I decided to forego school and enlist in the US Navy.

    Having tested in the top 1% on the ASVAB, I signed up for a 6 year contract as a Nuclear Submarine Mechanic. My thoughts were I would get excellent training and job experience while eventually having the Navy pay for school with the GI Bill. Unfortunately in 2012 I was discharged after only 4 years for back problems that disqualified me from further submarine service. The result of this “breach of contract” is my ineligibility for military education benefits.

    Since getting out I’ve had a number of decent paying jobs in various technical fields. I’ve gained expertise in material science, engineering, electronics, manufacturing, physics, mathematics and business. I currently write test protocols and standard operating procedures for one of the 10 biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

    My real beef lies in how I’ve been treated by colleges and HR departments for the last 2 years since separating from the military. You see, the Navy sent me to Nuclear Power School for 2 years to learn all manners of things that are normally taught to MIT nuclear engineering students. They take painful efforts to educate nuclear operators and mechanics to ensure reactor safety in the fleet. In fact, the material is so advanced and accelerated that the graduation rate for my program was somewhere around 10%. This training has been evaluated by the American Counsel of Education (The same group who popularized CLEP and DANTES exams) to be equivalent to 90 credit hours of engineering studies. That’s 30 credits shy of a Bachelor’s Degree. So, while I certainly don’t claim to be a genius, I’m not dim witted or a slacker by any means. Despite this, for some reason every college transfer agent and HR rep who runs across my resume thinks I’m inferior goods because I didn’t want to take out student loans to finish my degree.

  3. As it stands right now, I’ve applied to multiple schools in an attempt to gage how many transfer credits I can muster up. I’ve gotten different results across the board. One school will take some electronics credits while another might take the mechanical classes. The one universal truth is that none of them will take everything. Because of this, I started taking community college classes to knock out the remaining credits I would need. So far I have 135 college credit hours but I’m still a year or two away from a BS at any local school.

    The worst of it is that all of the classes I’ve taken have done little to enhance my knowledge of anything. The teachers consistently press clicker buttons to shuffle through power point presentations that are available on blackboard. Complex questions remain unanswered or are met with completely wrong information. Students are tested on the ability to regurgitate useless definitions rather than the capacity for problem solving. The campus officials care more about expanding revenue than educating their student customers. I’ve learned more from a day’s worth of independent research than entire courses in college.

    In summary, the college system in America is completely broken. It generates zombified lemmings that have more experience racking up debt and drinking beer than working side by side with peers to solve a business problem. Somehow, these entitled youths, who’ve squandered their parents’ retirement savings on theoretical knowledge are considered more intelligent than a 26 year old home owner with a painfully saved retirement portfolio exceeding $100,000. Perhaps the labor market just isn’t comfortable with people like me who think outside the box. Self-motivated learners don’t make good employees because they’re informed enough to make rational decisions that improve their situations. Thinking like that is what lead to the evil labor unions that expanded our middle class in the economic boom between 1947 and 1990. If America wants to remain successful and bring back the dream of opportunity we need to foster collective bargaining and apprenticeship programs rather than feeding people the line of bull that college can make everyone white collar. Furthermore, students and parents need to hold educational institutions more accountable for their dismal results. Let’s invest in STEM education and reverse the grade inflation of the past 20 years. Not everyone needs to be a college graduate!

    1. Thanks for your beautiful story, I really enjoyed reading it.

      The college system in America resembles the situation in England entirely. The only difference is the way our Student Loan gets assigned to individual cases, which ultimately decides for you where you’re going to/what you’re going to study. Whatever your families background, everyone is entitled to a student loan with 0% interest, paid back only once you are earning over £21,000 and if it’s not paid after 30 years it gets wiped.

      I started university at 18 when tuition was about £3000 a year. When I returned a year later, the same course at the same university had risen to £9000 a year with the whole Coalition situation, despite hundreds of student protests across the country. Where before tuition across the board (not including Oxbridge) was a fixed amount… now the tuition rates apparently tell you what kind of education/rank/status you are paying for. My situation: study Social and Politics at The University of York for the increased price of £9000 a year, or study Social and Politics at say… The University of Essex, notably lower in the league tables, for a mere £4000 a year. Therefore, if a student from a low/lower-middle income family comes along with high enough grades to get into a top 10 UK university- are they going to go to the top 10 uni, with the higher tuition costs, higher rank and therefore higher rent/living prices when they can go somewhere cheaper all round and get the same credential at the end….. I think no. University has turned itself into Dolce and Gabbana. A very clever move from our government to separate the masses.

      Of course maybe this was always the case in America, it was how schools sort of ranked themselves, but this is entirely new to us. Before the tuition increase, whether I studied at York or at Essex, the tuition fee was the same, which meant there was far more equality in terms of student backgrounds. The increase in tuition, even with the availability of a student loan, has had a huge impact on those from lower-middle income families for sure. £9000 a year makes £27,000 for a 3 year course, but that’s just tuition. Then there’s maintenance; rent, bills, food, books… I’m considered “low income family” so my loan entitlement for maintenance was about £3000 a year, £9000 over 3 years (which makes a lump sum of about £36,000 for the degree. But friends of mine whose families income was above the certain mark (perhaps only earning £100 a year more than my family) received about £1000 a year in maintenance – so yes their loan is lower overall, but who is going to cover the rest of the costs…. that falls to the parents of those students. So the whole idea of equality pretty much goes to hell for those from lower-middle income families. Not poor enough for all the cash benefits, not rich enough for parent handouts.

      What you said about society not wanting free thinking employees had me instantly imagining everyone in chains, nothing but a cog in the machine…. University taught me how to be a cog, but I chose the free, open road.

  4. We are taught that in order to Achieve the “American Dream” we must do well in school and get good grades to be accepted into the best colleges. We are taught that a College Graduated will make $1millon dollars more in life than a non-degree person. The fact is after you figure the costs of a Masters Degree, over $500,00 is owed in student loans and other expenses.

    1. I think my problem stems from the fact that earning $1million dollars isn’t a “dream” of mine. My dream is to be happy. I wasn’t happy at university even though I was interested in the topics and getting high grades. I want to learn and grow in ways that can’t be taught from books. That isn’t to say that one day I won’t return to university, because in fact I might. But it won’t be for a higher salary. It will be because I’ve decided what direction I want my life to take, whether that is business, law, teaching, or research.

      Until a young adult makes this decision, I think their time would be better spent gaining work experience around the world and seeing how the other half live as opposed to rushing into university and graduating into the pool of millions of other 21+ year olds with their scroll to hand, but no real life experience.

What do you think? Let me know!

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