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What's a degree worth?

Education is approaching a change where it will never turn back, but what will we find around that corner?

In America, college degrees mean less and less, and it seems like what's often more important is real-world experience and a competitive portfolio/skill sets. So the question is to put yourself in the following situations to answer the following:

As an employer: Would you rather hire someone with your required skill sets/a competitive portfolio and no college degree, or someone with a degree and good grades but little experience? (everything else held equal)

As a high school graduate: Would you be willing to self-teach yourself to the point where you had marketable skills and an impressive self-made portfolio while risking not having a degree?

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    Feb 4 2013: Another thought struck me as I read these posts. Perhaps a challenge is the current hiring philosophy and restrictions imposed by technology and size of corporations. I hear constantly that degrees are worth less and less, but that you must have one to apply for various jobs. This leads to an almost cold war escalation. AA, BA, Masters, etc.

    It struck me that these degrees are used as a filter for large companies hiring. How do you whittle 2000 applicants down?. Lets hit the 2 year degree filter. Hmm 1000 left. lets hit the 4 year degree filter now down to 500 and so on.

    I imagine that there are some great candidates in those first 1000 people lost. So here is a great anecdote I came across a few months back.... You may like this.

    The local police chief and I were talking about hiring. Seems they are starting to go back to hiring people without degrees because book smart vs street smart is a VERY different animal.
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    Feb 3 2013: It is the individual that gives value to the degree, even though the degree has its own value. But the human is much more important; because competence and excellence are far better as far as service delivery is concerned.
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    Feb 3 2013: A degree is becoming less about what an employer is looking for and more about the skills it enables some-one to do. As an employer, I'd rather take on someone who I can mould to my companies way of doing things (a non graduate - a blank canves). On the other hand, as a third party investor, I would be far more inclined to bank on a more educated person, who understands and values research as they are far more likely to build an original business based on cutting-edge experties. The graduate can sometimes represent a threat to an established company as they may have their owne ideas on how things should be done. However, a non-graduate with a hunger to learn can master their field by gaining experince with the right mentors. There are many roots to succes but deep down, everyone respects a good degree. DC
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    Feb 2 2013: The question is to broad. I would hope my doctor had a degree. However, many other jobs that require time to develop proficiency may be no-degree slots.

    Addressing "what is a degree worth". It is worth more to the university than to the employee for many years. So the question must be .... how soon is the college graduate a asset to corporate America .... and could corporate America train selected people quicker and better for their needs.

    In the last large corporation I worked at a Masters degree was equal to one years experience in the hiring phase. We also became painfully aware that hiring a PHd was only temporary as they spent most of the company time looking for a jump up the corporate ladder with rival companies.

    Many of the college graduates were looking for positions ... not jobs.

    So the bottom line is that there is no definative answer. The hiring authority must match the requirements to the need for skills, education, and experience level.

    Perhaps the time is right to consider tech schools versus universities. Bob.
  • Dan F 50+

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    Feb 13 2013: A college degree can offer a growth adventure of a lifetime.

    I was not college material upon getting my high school diploma. I basically slid through the system. I then worked for a couple years and got some advise from an older carpenter I was assisting build a house. I wanted to be his partner. He responded by telling me to go to college. He told me I wasn't a kid anymore and if I tackled it as if I was climbing Mt Everest, I could make it to the top. He said, "You are a good worker, just work hard at learning and you can make it."

    I went from bonehead english to eventually receiving my degree in biology.

    I tell this story because the world is only as big to us as individuals as we are willing to partiscipate in the challenges that can make it bigger. The more intelligent the individual, other things being equal, the better the prospects in the job market as a significant side benefit of the degree.

    I like the idea of being the best you can be whatever the obstacle or challenge.

    I consider my degree priceless.
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      Feb 14 2013: Dan, I am with you in considering my formal education priceless. And it set me up for a lifetime of further learning and adventure.
  • Feb 10 2013: The things you learn in college have an implicit value that cannot be overstated. Working my way through college in middle America has been formative, while the balance of work and school has been in constant, sometimes unmanageable flux. I learned a lot working full time in the workplace-about how to handle work environments, how to show up everyday fifteen minutes early, how to be industrious without burning out and how to warm up to supervisors. I learned diligence, how to manage money and taxes and how to form a personal budget. I learned the true cost of things, how to look at unit costs, how to tighten a leaking faucet-how to hang a shelf on my own. But what I have learned in college is how to be a global citizen. I have made friends from every corner of the planet. I have traveled, I have had my eyes opened and I have been given a deep respect for reason and advancement. I have learned not only my civic duties but how to truly respect and admire the cultures of others. I have been humbled in academic debates, I have had my old views turned upside down and I have been given a long list of "suggested reading". College opens the doors of possibility for a person in more ways than networking or a job ticket... it paints a bigger picture that is dynamic, exciting and it invites you to take part. True, I could have read some Victorian literature on my own and stopped there but instead I had the opportunity to discuss it with graduate students from all different backgrounds, to learn from professors that have published multiple books on the subject, etc. Employers know that college offers such opportunities for personal growth and is indicative of at least strength of character upon its completion. This is why employers often want a bachelor's degree-it is indicative of dedication, hard work and personal development. It is a very rare high school graduate who knows what they want to pursue at 18, knows who they are, and knows how to achieve their goals.College helps
  • Feb 10 2013: I have a hard time with this question. I'm 37 years old, was a single mom for 12 years. I didn't graduate high school, instead I got my GED. I've gone to community college off and on over the years. I've got over 13 years experience in my field and I have a 6 figure income. A year ago I was looking to relocate and was searching for jobs. All the jobs I chose to apply for had a requirement of a 4 years degree or 5-7 years experience in lieu of the degree. I come to the table with 13+ years experience and I'm certified in my area of expertise. After every interview, the feedback was that I didn't have enough experience. I know my skills, abilities, and experience, I know how much my managers have appreciated me, I'm not making the salary I am now because I don't have the experience and drive or that I'm not a great asset to the team. The only thing I can attribute my rejections to is that I don't have a degree. (Which I'm currently finishing up now)

    To answer your questions. As an employer, I wouldn't go based on degree alone. If the candidate has a solid work history, experience and knowledge to back it up then I would consider them for the position.

    As a high school graduate, knowing what I know now and have experienced, I would get my degree as soon as I completed high school. That one piece of paper helps open doors that experience alone can not open.
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    Feb 5 2013: I find your question a hot topic!

    I have work throughout the years and harvested my skills in which have allowed me to reside in my current position as Director of Operational Standards. I currently have no formal college degree, but several years of college education, and am currently working on my bachelor's degree.

    While my skills, experience and track record in my field speak for themselves, I cannot feel somewhat embarrassed of my lack of formal degree or education. I find myself in this position (obtaining a degree currently) because I know the realistic views in which I observe and confront everyday with colleagues.

    From my professional and personal experience, I know that a college degree is not always a good measure of a candidates ability or skills that they will bring to the job. Those who may excel in studies do not always excel in the real world. I believe it's a balance and mixture of both academic and real world experience that allow a greatness.

    Although I do believe that there is more push on formal academia than real world experience. For most companies, including mine, they will not even consider a candidate unless they have a AA, BA, or (in my position) a Masters degree. How I ended up in my position with not even a bachelors degree is quite astonishing.

    While I am more inclined to see candidates with no formal degree, trying to convince my colleagues is another story. I believe that we have a long way to go in corporate America and shifting those traditional ideas and concepts in relation to degree's and their worth.
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    Feb 4 2013: Perhaps we need a new method to measure degrees as they relate to career fields and hiring. As someone pointed out, A doctor should have a degree but perhaps a Customer Service manager (or some other field) does not. I have hired and fired over the years for both clerical and mechanical work. I use a simple philosophy. I hire "nice" people with the skillset of the job. eg. A nice accountant minded person vs not-so nice person that already knows our software. This idea is simple as I believe I can teach a person a new program, BUT I cannot teach "nice".
  • Feb 3 2013: College degrees mean less and less because everyone has one, but therein lies the paradox; if you don't have one employers wonder why you don't have one if everyone else does. Employers clearly value real world experience which is something that recent graduates lack but the point is that these graduates will not always lack experience, 3 or 4 years later they will have both the experience AND the degree which in the long run makes them more employable.
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    Feb 3 2013: A key to unlock the door of job market .....
  • Feb 13 2013: I think the problem here may come from laziness. Let me explain:

    The employer essentially wants to hire someone with the right skills/traits to do the job. Instead of devising a way to seek out and/or test for those particular skills/traits, they rely on a degree to tell them his person "knows" their stuff (a very sloppy/lazy method for obtaining this objective).

    The job seeker knows the employer is lazy and looks only at degree status so the job seeker goes into massive debt obtaining a degree in order to be considered for the high-paying position they desire. Had the employer been seeking out specific experience/skills/traits, the job seeker could start with an unpaid internship to get in and prove themselves and then work their way up. While many job-seekers might be willing to do this, it doesn't always work because the "lazy" employer sets standards for certain levels within the organization, requiring a bachelor's degree to reach any level of management for instance...even though the degree actually does very little in determining someones qualifications for doing the job.
  • Feb 12 2013: A degree is just a certification that you've been exposed to an specific area of knowledge. Only when you go out and apply that knowledge and succeed is when you know that you actually learned it.

    If you are not lazy and you are self motivated you can acquire and infinite amount of knowledge through the net (not degree needed). You can go as far as you want using open-ware sources from MIT, Oxford-UK, Tokio-TECH and many others (http://www.ocwconsortium.org).

    Colleges are good because they put you in a room with a group of people (student) you can interact with a monitor (teacher/professor) and that dynamic is very important in the "real world". But as long as you can prove what you know, put in practice what you learned and succeed - you should be fine. By that time you might be the one looking to hire others collaborators.

    The next generations have beautiful and interesting challenges in terms of education. The net changed the rules of the game and I love that. :)
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    Feb 12 2013: Whats a degree wirth to whom? Im about to step into my University because im Interested and I want to learn, for me its worth nothing i wouldnt go out and work for the sake of money right now because theres too much to explore too much i long for knowing. Learnig however is invaluable and as said degree marks the end of a "learning phase" it gets its worth because once i have it it means ive understood and gained some knowledge.

    The degree alone however remains worthless for me.

    For someone whos out for the money well he can make that money without a degree i guess, a degree may help him to get into a certain position (regardless off how much learned for that degree ... he mightve aswell received it as a christmas present so to say).

    Id argue the worth of a degree is based on ones goals. For me the degree itself is worthless the knowledge is invaluable. For someone else though the knowledge may be worthless (or he may not be interested in it, thus giving it no value for said person) however the degree may be invaluable as it opens up some doors.

    -I know i used a diffrent interpretation of the question as the majority but i like to write what first comes to my mind :o)
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      Feb 13 2013: What are you going to be studying Max?
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        Feb 13 2013: Well science it is, decided on physics. In case i dont learn enough / my brain is insufficient itll be chemistry or economics (big picture economics ;o) dont know how to explain it as i havent heard an equivalent term in english, in germany we distinguish between "bwl" which focuses on marketing and making a huge profit and "vwl" which focuses on how diffrent economies interact with eachother e.g. terms of trade, taxes, state spending and so on ... itd be the second one for me).

        So yeah i dont think you can weight up a degree with a degree :D Engiineering, marketing ect. may give you a degree but their really focused around the requirements of an economy thus they will attract a huge amount of people who are out for money / living a nice average life with family, going to work coming home having some nice food some freetime and no financial problems to worry about. - for those indeed the value of a degree can be expressed in terms of income.

        For me it cant be expressed in this way, im happy as long as i learn and understand somethign new (food and a warm home would be appreciated though as they make it a lot easier).

        i suspect the author of this thread was out for the financial question, thats why i stated there are diffrent interpretations.
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      Feb 14 2013: Max, I think you have raised the most important point. It is not the degree per se but the learning that degree will represent that matters. You have to know how to take advantage of what college offers. Many who find it useless just never figured out how to take advantage of the opportunities there to develop their critical and creative faculties.

      In the United States, the subject you call bwl is often called Business Administration. The second subject you describe is part of Economics.
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    Feb 8 2013: Traditionally, college degrees have cultivated skills that become obsolete in a short span of time, as per the industry standards in todays dynamic and innovative workspace.

    I would like to stress on the wide gap between the academic and industrial operating models. The existence of this question in the society itself is evident of the fact that academia and industry are looking in different direction as of now.

    There is an increasing need to make any kind of education more practical and application oriented; Only then a person with a good university degree would be an obvious choice for an employer seeking a combination of education and real life skills.

    As for this question specifically, the choice is at the discretion of the organization of whether to prioritize experience over college degrees or vice versa because at the end of the day what matters is "productivity" of the employee.

    However, a college degree will always allow you to learn far more importat values than some specific industry skill sets. So, I would personally recruit someone who has a good college degree and demonstrates the ability to learn and apply thier knowledge over someone with no college degree and specific skill sets.

    Not to forget, there are always some cases where you come across individuals who for some reason could not go to college but can become assets for the organization. So its always an arbitrary decision on the part of the employer.
  • Feb 8 2013: This is what I also think about a lot lately. I am an actuarial science student, and I am only one term away from graduation.

    To become a qualified actuary, we need to take exams from well recognized institutions such as SOA ( Society of Actuaries). I've been taking these exams since I was a freshman and I did a lot of self-studying. After having passed several exams, the classes at university get really boring and meaningless to me since I have read and took exams on related topics already. Then a question popped into my mind: If I can take these exams by myself, why do I have to study here? I've realized that going to college wouldn't mean anything if we have to study something that we can learn by ourselves.

    I think this is why college degrees become less important. In some fields, technical knowledge and simplified theories are much easier to learn than applying them in real life. The ability to work efficiently, communicate with others, and think critically become much more important in the business world. Eventually, what the employers are looking for is a potential employee who they presume will be able to work well in their companies, not a first-class honor student who don't know how to do anything at all.
    • Feb 8 2013: I totally agree! So how would you propose a system where education aligns better with what the student wants and what the employer wants?
      • Feb 9 2013: I think the university should give more credit on working experiences and internship. May be one term for an internship etc. Also, they should invite the professionals in the areas to come and share their experiences so that students will understand what it's like in actual working environment.
  • Feb 8 2013: I hope it's worth all of this money.
  • Feb 8 2013: I am about to graduate college and receive a 4 year BA degree. I have learned things I would have hated to learn but now love, and doors have opened in many unexpected places. My degree will inspire me to move forward and to be an active learner.

    I believe learning skills is more accessible than learning undergraduate and graduate studies even with places such as MIT's open courses and Khanacademy. The people I am surrounded by are, inspiring and have been so important in the learning process.
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      Feb 8 2013: I love the phrase "active learner". That's absolutely what college and education is supposed to be in general. Not just filling a bucket, but lighting a fire with stuff in the bucket...and then filling the bucket with more stuff to keep the fire going. Eventually the fire creates stuff to help fill the bucket...
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    Feb 5 2013: As for the first question, I believe I would hire someone with a college degree. Experience can be gained with time, esp. if they got the capacity to learn. But would keep in mind that not every degree really reflects the potential an employee might have. So personal assessment of the employee is essential.

    And I would teach myself if I am passionate and dedicated enough and I have a faith in my self regulating and leading skills. If what I love is not given in colleges, then I will do it on my own. But if it is found and I am unable to afford it or join it then I will just work harder to prove that I do deserve to get into school.

    School does not teach me much more than what I can learn on my own, but it gives me the accreditation I need to cope with the society around me. Humans need things they can sense, like a degree. I will not expect employers to have faith and beliefs in a stranger, me.

    School is just an aid tool. In the end, a dedicated scholar depends a lot on their selves and their self regulating skills to achieve the degree they want. So there is basically no much difference between a free scholar and a college student, both work hard. But we are only humans, not Gods to see beyond the sensible evidences.

    The question here though, is it fair? Not everyone can get into school even though they do absolutely deserve to be there. And they might be even more qualified than a college graduate. But our world is not truly meritocratic, despite the efforts being exerted by many organizations and individuals. But if someone is capable of getting qualified by an institution, like a university, I think they need to cope with the society they live in.
  • Feb 5 2013: I believe learning at an advanced level is itself a skill. We all have a certain predisposition for this trait but in the end it is our own will that ultimately gauges our capacity for life long learning. Just as our natural physical ability is always well outpaced by the abilities we attain through concerted effort so goes the powers of the human mind. What we should be asking ourselves when we engage in higher learning is what we intend to achieve. At 33 I'm a bit older than most of my fellow students and I have literally been around the world a few times. I took on this challenge with a very different perspective than most.

    Would I hire someone based on their experience over someone based on their education? I suppose it would depend on the subject matter and what that history could tell me about a person. Do they possess a dynamic intellect that has discovered how to learn? Do they know how to digest new information and produce derivative ideas? Is this person a lifelong learner or were they just sprinting?

    This is where I draw the line. For me the degree is meaningless without a passion for knowledge and experience is easily accidental, and usually is. The things a person spends their time to understand says a lot about them. If you are having trouble seeing the value of your degree then I suggest you set your goals a lot higher (for some people I will admit that was a bit unfair but for many it certainly was not).

    As for the online trend, we have an AWESOME start but it is far from a finished product.

    I can see at least one glaring issue with the standard school system and it is the standards. Case in point....

    We are redesigning our education systems from the inside out. It will probably get worse before it gets better but it will get better. In the meantime be realistic about your expectations and keep your indirect costs low.
  • specs 2

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    Feb 4 2013: Q
    As an employer: Would you rather hire someone with your required skill sets/a competitive portfolio and no college degree, or someone with a degree and good grades but little experience? (everything else held equal)
    It depends very much on the job I'm hiring for and the expectations from that employee. There is no single right or wrong answer. Some jobs simply require a degree to ensure regulatory compliance or suitable credentials. Some don't. Of those that don't require a degree, experience would outweigh academic achievement but unless you're a stellar performer you will often find the lack of a degree to be a hindrance in the long term. (Not always but it will come up on occasion unfortunately and may cause you to miss out on some opportunities)

    As a high school graduate: Would you be willing to self-teach yourself to the point where you had marketable skills and an impressive self-made portfolio while risking not having a degree?
    If you have an impressive self made portfolio then why ask the question? The answer in this particular case yes. If you didn't have an impressive portfolio then you wasted your time.

    The value of a degree must be viewed in the context of what you want for yourself and that always changes as you grow older. I would advise that if you do get a degree you probably won't regret it no matter what life brings. If you don't get one you may regret it.
  • Feb 4 2013: The price of the paper it was printed on and the ink.
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    Feb 3 2013: What's a degree worth? To many, their lives as indentured slaves.
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    Feb 2 2013: Well, depends... but as a student I can assure you degrees are worth less each year due to current job market status. I know of a guy who started university at the same time as me (currently I'm final year student of 4th year degree), he left it after 1st semester and started his business.

    After these years he has more experience and a stable business. I still have to struggle to find a decent job so he is miles ahead.

    So experience and entrepreneurship beat university degrees
  • Feb 2 2013: I would rather hire someone with 4 years of experience than a 4 year degree. However, if they were good at what they did I would pay for night classes for them. Education is great for expanding knowledge, but knowing something never beats experience doing something right.
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    Feb 13 2013: I attended college for the last 3 years of my life and currently I am taking time off. While in college I did more than most. I was a collegiate runner, president of two business clubs that managed 150 plus people with over 11 projects dealing with real community issues and global problems like blindness and lack of clean water. I learned that one can achieve anything if the right conditions present it's self all you have to do is recognize it and grasp the opportunity.

    For me college classes were only a commitment to a piece of paper that will make my family happy. I wasn't doing for me, I was just checking in and checking out everyday to reach a goal. After Freshman year I realized there is more to life than corporate accounting and logic class. There is a bubble created in a crucial time of discovery that you can easily get trapped in.

    When you buy into college your buying into a business that is growing at an unsustainable rate, over 10% last I looked. Like all bubbles, it will pop. When I saw Rhode Island College tuition price jump from $40,000 a year to $54,0000 in one year I was disgusted with the system of over valuation of a product that people can't prove is working. You only learn with experience and after starting two businesses in a year Eco Pedicab and Velocity Crepes, I say go to college to learn a trade but take a lower financial risk and fight for a cause or research a problem and solve it! I higher only based on experience and talent not a piece of paper.

    Inovation comes from experimenting with ideas. College shuts you off from the world and keeps you there. Sorry I bought into a lie bigger than the housing bubble. Companies are getting plenty of free labor out of it though...
  • Feb 12 2013: As an employer I would be willing to hire someone with the correct skills and experience regardless of whether or not they had a degree. As long as they can prove that they can perform the duties required for the job, I would be willing to hire them. However, I think that if you wish to get into a certain industry without getting a college degree first, you have to start at a young age and build your portfolio.

    As someone who is currently attending college, I spend my spare time teaching myself useful skills. I believe that it's something that people are going to have to do from now on. Just having a degree really doesn't necessarily mean that you will get a job. Networking is probably the most valuable tool in getting a job. If you have the right skills and you know the right people, you are very likely to get a job.
  • Feb 11 2013: Your question does make someone really think about how much a degree is worth. I think from an employer's perspective they would ideally like to see someone with a college degree and experience within that field. Since that is very rare for a student just out of college, I could see how some employers would look for students with degrees because it shows they were able to accomplish something they put their mind to. On the other hand, experience within that field can be invaluable for an employer.

    As a high school graduate I always knew that I wanted and needed to go to college. Everyone always told me that a college degree can open a lot more doors for you than someone without. Some people are not as fortunate to have the opportunity to go to college and they need to decide if their time is better spent in the work field or going to college. When I graduated from high school I knew I did not have the necessary skills to go straight into working and building a career. I needed the knowledge I gained from going to College to further my skills and make me a valuable employee. I don't think it is often that a student comes straight out of high school with the strength or ability to teach themselves marketable skills. It takes a strong individual to push themselves to become a career driven person.
  • Feb 11 2013: I would have to say that a college degree means more than just a degree. For those who get a degree shows that they have dedicated four years of their life to education themselves. Something that takes a lot of work and money investing in their future. The real world experience should come after someone goes to college. If i was an employer and had a choice to hire either;
    A. College graduate with the right degree program
    B. High School graduate who has job experience
    I would have to chose A. For several reasons. I know that A has drive, commitment, and is knowledgeable in how to get work done. They may not be able to do the job right off the bat but would be highly motivated to learn how to do the job and be able to perform at higher levels than the under educated person B.
    Saying that a person is willing to set aside time in their life to out perform someone that has four years of college to me would say that person is highly talented and wouldn't waste time but would probably enroll in college.