Is College Still Worth It? Freakonomics Says Yes

“I can’t homeschool sister forever. For every painting job I sign I put everything I own on the line for the chance of a small profit. I am one crazy customer away from a lawsuit that puts me in debt for the rest of my life. My only way out is to earn my degree as soon as possible and apply to jobs until I can find a crap position that at least has room for growth. But even with a degree I am not safe. Out of the twenty friends I know with a degree, I only know a couple that have careers and they are engineers whose parents got them jobs.” -From a recent discussion with my mom.

Every week last semester, I looked for jobs or internships on the career center website and Craigslist. The only jobs that I could find were for engineers, nurses or assistant manager positions at retail stores. I know I could get a job teaching high school, but I have been hesitant to commit to that career because a certification would be expensive and un-flexible. Things have been looking grim for years so I have been looking forward to hearing part two of “Freakenomics Goes to College”, where Stephen Dubner presents his research of how valuable a college degree is these days.

“The best estimate that economists have are that each extra year of education that you get is worth about maybe an 8% increment to your earnings each year for the rest of your life.” -Steve Levitt

“But lets acknowledge the obvious. Buying all that education has gotten a lot more expensive.” -Stephen Dubner

But where are all the jobs? It was my understanding that there are no jobs for college grads because companies are scaling back to essential positions to try to wait out the recession and baby boomers have been forced to work past their retirement. After listening to their research and discussion, I decided it was time to take some data of my own.

I looked through my 328 Facebook friends and tallied the number of recent college grads (68) into who was starting a career (38.2%), in grad school (17.6%) or underemployed (44.1%). I was surprised to see that the numbers were lower than the national average of 53% underemployment. This lifted my spirits and gave me hope of someday distancing myself from the customers, EPA, IRS and OSHA that are hawks waiting to dive on me.

Still, as Steve Levitt stated in the podcast, “It is kinda hard to figure out where it is that the value is added … Obviously I teach my students, I teach them very specific things, but I know that when I talk to them years later they don’t remember anything that I taught them.”

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