Does the Increase in Availability and Accessibility of College Courses Really Make Them Worthless?

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The UK and USA are currently going through something of a higher education boom during the current economic crisis. Despite a poor start to the year, in March the UK Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) reported an 8.8 percent increase in applications due to the countrywide need for individuals to consider a career change and smarten up their CVs. This trend is reflected across the pond also, with online degree courses and e-Learning study on the rise for the same reasons. However, the accessibility of higher education in 2009 has provoked some interesting responses from some commentators.

In an article called ‘The Back Forty: Higher Education not Necessarily a Necessity’ at othellooutlook.com (13th May), Roger Pond describes his lack of enthusiasm for higher education today. He talks of a trend he noticed over a period of years during the 60s, returning to university after a stint teaching vocational agriculture he got the opportunity to grade some degree work. “I noticed many of those papers weren’t very good…I thought. ‘These kids aren’t any better than the ones I had in high school. The poorer ones!'”

Although Pond’s opinion may seem extreme to some of us, he does seem to have a point. It is futile quibbling over when college degrees start to become worth less, or possibly “worthless”, but I agree that there may be (or have been) a time when universities became no-longer the realm of youngsters from the more affluent families in town. Interestingly, speaking from a British perspective, a signifier of being middle class used to be that you were educated – whilst anyone arguing that corner today would be utterly wrong, in my opinion.

If this happens (or has happened) then a higher proportion of young adults receiving degrees means that it is now more difficult for an employer to choose a prospective employee based on their attainment. I.e. if you have 10 applications all with between 2.2 and 1st degrees, when last year only two out of the 10 applications even had degrees, it will be other aspects of their character that will get them the job.

However, what surprises me most about Pond’s remarks is his timing. At a time when jobs are being cut, and employees are considering further education to ensure their CVs are as impressive as possible, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that he may be a little late. That is, of course, unless he believes the thousands of people who are now applying to study at universities and on e-Learning courses can really be swayed to believe that doing so isn’t entirely necessary.