OPINION: So long as college is necessary, it should be affordable

Ross McDonnell Opinion Writer

Right now, many of my fellow Kent State students are currently in the process of working out exactly how to get enrolled in classes this fall (or possibly summer) and how exactly to get these classes paid for. Seeing as such, I figured it would be appropriate to cover a topic I have been meaning to write about for a while.

College is a great opportunity, and it is certainly something that has helped me in many ways and is continuing to help me in many more ways. Graduating from Kent State with a degree in journalism (plus a few years working as a reporter) will give me the opportunity to make a living doing one of the most fun jobs that I think there is — a columnist.

That doesn’t mean, however, that college is without its flaws or faults. Additionally, there are major problems with the relationships with college degrees and employers, and those will be covered more as we move along.

First off, at the base level, colleges are providing their students (who are, in a sense, clients) with a service, and there’s always one huge barrier that prevents people from buying goods and services: not having enough money.

The average in-state college tuition for a public college is around $10,000. That’s a lot. If someone, for example, works 30 hours a week (a lot for a full class load), and makes $10/hour, if they don’t take any time off, they’ll make $15,600 a year. That’s before taxes and social security. It’s also before life. Some people, like me, are fortunate enough to have places to stay during their college years. A lot of people aren’t so lucky.

A former family friend of mine, who went to a different college in the state of Ohio in the 1970s, had a slightly different path. Adjusted for inflation to 2013, Ohio University cost $2,600 per year in 1975. That’s a big change from then until recently. The minimum wage in the U.S. at the time, adjusted for inflation, was $10.54, Which all of you can see is actually more than the $10/hour I used in the first example.

Now, if you’re reading this column like I’m reading it, and trying to pick it apart as I do, you’re thinking, “so he’s proven that college is way more expensive now than it was 45 years ago. Why does that matter?”

Here’s why it matters: it goes back to the lovely clip of Homer Simpson I linked earlier. Money can be exchanged for goods and services.  However, unless you either win the lottery or are already rich enough to invest, acquiring any significant amount of money requires a job that pays it to you. Nowadays — perhaps mistakenly — most of those jobs require a degree from college.

Now, there are other options, and none of them are bad at all. As a matter of fact, if you want to do something that involves one of these options, such as going to a trade school, then I would say that’s the best option for you. To me, at least, doing things you enjoy as a career is a very important factor to happiness.

That being said, here are the two primary options in today’s job market for non-college graduates and the issues that those options might create.

Option one: start your own business. There are lots of people who start businesses and are very successful. If it’s something you want to do, then I think it’s a great option, but there are drawbacks.

Drawback number one: lack of job security. While there are always many ways to look at the data, when starting a new business, there is a pretty good chance you’ll go out of business within a decade. Again, if you’re a risk-taker, that’s not a drawback. If you’re not, then it probably is. I never want you to take away from my columns that “shoot, now I’m gonna have to rethink my entire career.” I just intend to show why it’s important to make college somewhat accessible for people, not to make their post-secondary decisions for them.

Also, many types of businesses that are in demand might not be what everyone wants to do for a career. I know someone who ran restaurants a lot of her life and had fun doing it. I know for a fact I wouldn’t last a day in that world.

You can also go the trade school route. There’s a guy I met down in Odessa, Texas that is very successful as a journeyman electrician. He makes a lot of money. I think a lot of people would be well served to enter a similar career, but there are still drawbacks.

Number one is the inability to change careers. If for whatever reason you either want or need to switch careers, it’s much harder to do that out of a trade school than it is with a college degree.

Assuming I get my journalism degree (and if you’re reading this, I probably did and am now applying for one of your open positions) it will be much easier for me to switch careers if necessary. I met a professor at Tri-C that got a journalism degree but instead decided to teach communications courses.

Also, the great thing about a college degree is it’s a college degree. If an employer sees a college degree on your resume, a lot of doors that would’ve been completely closed are now at least cracked open, and when trying to get your foot in the door, every little bit helps.

Should a college degree be necessary to get many “middle-class” type jobs? Maybe not. I’ve always thought I’ve learned more through trial and error, conversations with journalism classmates and reading my fellow columnists than I do in classes. Other people might learn better through classes. Some might be naturals. Sadly, however, that’s not the way our nation’s job market is set up right now. Many coveted jobs require a college degree, and as long as that’s the case, we should work to make a college degree more affordable. At least as affordable as they have been in the past.

Ross McDonnell is an opinion writer. Contact him at [email protected]