The Myth of a Worthless Degree, Part 1 | Hour Blog

What’s in a degree?  In these hard times, it doesn’t seem like too much.  Especially from a job prospect perspective and especially for those who didn’t pursue education beyond the undergraduate level, a degree doesn’t seem like a guarantee of anything, which sucks, especially considering how passionately my middle school teachers endorsed the myriad uses of higher education.  The cost-benefit analysis rarely weighs in our favor.  Debt kills.  And that particular price of entry continues to rise, even as the relevance of what’s earned in return rapidly falls.

This sobering situation becomes even more cold-water-wake-up shocking when those unfortunate multitude who didn’t pursue a career in business, engineering, the medical field or law are taken into account.  Yes, I am speaking to you, sociology, psychology, philosophy, English, and history majors.  Look, it’s not as if I’m pointing any fingers.  I have an MA in English, so definitely in the same boat here.

But this is not yet another blog post wailing over the sad sad state of the economy.  This is, instead, a defense of our degrees.

I say there is no such thing as a worthless degree.  In fact, I will go on to say that the degrees we have earned have great value and will only becoming increasingly valuable as time progresses.  But I won’t stop there.  I’ll even make the claim that our whole idea of career education and the hiring process needs an upgrade.

You may scoff.  Fine.  Scoff.  But give me some time to lay out my rationale.

A very magical thing happened in the nineties.  The internet.  And although it’s roots extend back to the 1950s, it wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that the revolution began in earnest.  It is in this revolution that our hope lies.  Before the internet, things were different.  Knowledge now only a google away was then at least a 10 minute car ride and 30 minute book search ordeal.   This may seem like I’m stating the obvious–and perhaps I am–but I don’t think the implications of the obvious I’m stating have truly been brought to bear on popular sentiment, job recruiting practices, or our own self-esteem.

In general, people learn to do what they do for their job…at their job.  Our specific educations, while indicative of our degree of knowledge of some body of knowledge, shouldn’t be an easy HR sorting device for quick ins and easy outs.  Instead, our scholarly pursuits should be used to determine how quickly we can master information, adapt to situations, and achieve excellence.   The particulars are largely superfluous.  I’m not telling recruiters to hire art history majors to fill an exec vacancy, but what I am saying is that we need to take a deeper look at what really matters in education and what skills are really required for success.

When it comes down to it, motivation, creativity, and communication skills are the main indicators of success–not an MBA.  In a world where the answer to any question I might have is always at my finger tips, it’s my ability to quickly understand and apply that information that counts–not words on my diploma.

We’re not in a paper world anymore.  The pace is digital.  And the time when planning your degree by what the market will need 6 years from now is no longer the time in which we live.   The times requires an agile approach to education, but our education methods and recruiting practices have to catch up.

(This is the end of part 1.  Part 2 coming Thursday)