Finishing a Degree

Undertaking a degree program is a serious decision that requires careful thought before beginning and an unyielding commitment to finish.  While I believe strongly that human beings should pursue their passions and be willing to change course when changes are necessary, I believe that education programs should be finished once they are begun.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics published a report in 2021 showing the median weekly earnings and unemployment rate for people with various educational backgrounds.  The report presented data that indicates that high school graduates earn 26.7% more than people who have not obtained a high school diploma.  Likewise, an associate’s degree adds 19.0% to the average salary of someone who has graduated from high school.  And someone with a four-year degree can expect to make an average of 38.5% more than someone with an associate’s degree and 64.9% more than someone with a high school diploma.  However, someone who has taken college classes without graduating with any degree can only expect to make 11.1% more than a high school graduate.  The report data indicates similar differences in median unemployment rates of people with various degrees.

I know several people who have enrolled in universities, changed majors multiple times and then quit without a complete degree after 5 or 6 years.  One person started out as a computer science major.  After 2 years, he had 64 credit hours left to graduate with a Bachelor in Computer Science.  But, then he switched to music because he could not see himself working in front of a computer for the rest of his life.  He loves music.  So, he switched to music.  Since he had not taken any introductory music classes, he had 90 hours left for a music degree.  He worked on the music degree for 60 hours and then decided that the job prospects were not lucrative enough and that he preferred to be outdoors.  So, he switched majors to marine biology.  The marine biology degree would require another 60 hours to complete.  After another year in the university, he had earned 154 credit hours and had racked up almost $60,000 of student loan debt.  He realized that he would have difficulty completing the “summer at sea” part of the program because he easily got motion sickness on boats.  The prospect of changing majors again and his large student debt drove him to quit the university.  After spending several months unemployed, he finally got a job as a barista in a coffee shop.  His salary was, arguably, somewhat more than a barista with a high school diploma.  But, after student loan payments, his take-home salary was less.  He feels that he wasted 5 years taking university classes and has little to show for it besides a large debt.

I agree.  Obviously, median salaries and unemployment rates are only one measure of success.  But, I believe that they are excellent indicators of value.  To me, they indicate that completing a degree program is critical and that simply completing a high school diploma before entering the workforce is better than starting a degree and not finishing it.

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