By Bridget Bernet

From the beginning, colleges with their red brick walls, ivory towers, and low-quality air conditioning systems have been looming in the distance and horrifying high school students that have no future plans–aside from the prom dress they’re going to purchase that year. Starting in 859 AD, the first established university appeared in Fez, Morocco; the University Of Karueein was then soon followed by the University of Bologna in 1088, making Italy the first European country to house a college (Guinness World Record). With over two thousand universities worldwide, colleges are a dominating factor in society, opening doors to new possible experiences and locking doors to others.

Spending two or more years on these campuses introduce students to the fascinating, yet overwhelming world of adulthood. They are handed freedom, responsibility, and a dorm room key as they step foot on campus and are then guided through a mixture of adult and student life. This important stage of education not only prepares men and women alike for the daunting world awaiting them but also primes them for a new type of work and responsibility: Full-time employment. The National Association of Colleges and Employers found that in 2015, graduates were estimated to obtain an average of $50,556 with a four year degree. Not only this, but students will have a thorough knowledge of their chosen skill and will be able to implement said skill in their future careers. However, the prestige of the college experience has diminished over time. Students arrive to earn a degree, but instead end up wasted on Thursday nights and drowning in stress and unfinished processed essays. Not only this, but merely 27% of graduates have a job related to the degree they had devoted 4 years of their lives to (Plumer). In 2015, the National Center for Education Statistics averaged that the price for this education was $21,728. Twenty-one thousand for a 27% chance of pragmatic use. Twenty-one thousand for four more years of education. Twenty-one thousand for a piece of paper that will sit or hang on a wall or shelve, accumulating dust and watching as its owner spends years paying back the debt it has created. Colleges demand more than what colleges grant. Economically, when comparing the price tags from 2015, the average income that follows the average tuition, the difference is apparent; however, according to the US Census Bureau, when a graduate does not enter a field where the their degree is required, they earn roughly thirty thousand dollars less than someone utilizing, for example, a bachelors. What does this make of the college experience then?

College is not cheap. Costing students and their families thousands of dollars, sending an unmotivated student off to a university campus is not worth the financial detriment. Just the thought alone of earning a college degree is not enough to justify the immense investment of college education. It takes dedication, determination, discipline, dieting, and a daily dose of DayQuil to make it through four years of Red Bull and procrastination. Even then, not everyone has the strength to make it past the finish line. Thirty-one percent of students drop out in their first year on campus, and only 45% of students earn their degree at the first school they attended with 12% transferring to a different campus entirely (Cooper). The college experience is a unique one, but it isn’t worth the cost to miss the handshake and the degree that has inhaled thousands and thousands of dollars.

The cost, while overwhelming, can be justified, for where would the world be without it’s doctors and chemists and lawyers? Top notch colleges require checks with multiple commas because that’s what it takes to educate the innovators and superheroes of tomorrow. The cost covers the courses and the teachers and the time it takes to hone the skills that change the world for the better. However, when put under a broader lens, only 0.25% of the U.S. population are doctors, 8% of the U.S. population are lawyers, and 5% of the U.S. population are scientists (U.S. Census Bureau). While that 13.25% of the population is extremely important, where would they be without the building they work in and the house they go home to and the bus that takes them there and the barista that makes their Triple, Venti, Half Sweet, Non-Fat, Caramel Macchiato? Thousands of dollars of debt isn’t needed to have a career and play a part in society. Trade schools and online classes are a cheap alternative that grant the same reward for half the price. There’s no need to sell a kidney for a diploma that won’t be utilized. Starting in middle school, students are taught that college is a necessary step towards a stable future; however, in many cases college is the reason so many are unstable. University is an overpriced gamble that won’t always pay off; not everything is based off of that piece of paper waiting on graduation day. Life is malleable, and can be made into many different things, good and bad. Take Oprah, she dropped out of college to pursue her dream and she seems to be doing alright.

When playing the Game of Life, you don’t always have to start out with the ten extra spaces that take you through college; you can still win in the end without them.