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A college degree, what’s it worth these days?

by Kelly Goff
New America Media

That seems to be the topic on everyone's mind as millions of American students head toward graduation this month. And by everyone, I don't mean my classmates, the ones who have scrimped, saved, borrowed and begged to pay for their degrees. I mean the professors, parents and education reporters who just can't stop talking about how bleak the job market is for new graduates.

According to a recent Associated Press analysis of government data, 53.6 of bachelor's degree-holders under the age of 25 are unemployed or underemployed. News flash: the job market is tough for everyone. It has been since before we entered college.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in 2000 was at a 30-year low at 4 percent. We are now hovering around 8 percent, and that's pretty positive. Still, in 2000, 41 percent of bachelor's degree-holders under the age of 25 were unemployed or underemployed.

It's not just college students being hit hard by the economy, or even being hit much harder, but it seems we are just a focus group that has been spotlighted. Maybe because we know this, and because we know that it's going to be difficult, none of my classmates are asking each other where they're going to be working after graduation, but rather we are asking each other what we're going to be doing.

For some, it's time to decompress, travel and start exploring the world. After navigating the labyrinth of paperwork and red tape of completing an ever-more-challenging requirement list, it's time to take some time.

For others, yes, it's time to work. And this may be at our retail, waitressing or freelance jobs. But if it pays the bills, then it's ok for the time being.

No college degree can ever guarantee a job. And even if it does, it can never guarantee a job you'll love. In a good job market or a bad job market, an education has more worth than the monetary value that a Gallup poll places on it, and the more I think about it, the more I begin to resent this monetization of the college experience.

Thirteen years after graduating high school, I'm about to finally obtain my bachelor's degree. Perhaps because I took time off, went out there in the "real world" and found positions that were well-paying and didn't require a college degree, it doesn't feel like I've wasted my time or my money to get this degree. Those jobs might have paid the bills, but they didn't make me happy.

As cliché as it may sound, the degree is about learning, about gaining knowledge and skills that will serve me well in any job that I do end up obtaining. Critical thinking, multitasking and the expansion of my worldview cannot be measured in a starting salary.

Yes, I might have to wait tables a little longer than I'd like, but if there's anything that the last decade has taught me, it is that my degree holds more value than the dollar amount someone is willing to pay me just to see it on a resume.

It has also taught me that for those willing, able and determined, there is a place in the workforce. It may not be in their field of study, but it may be something that they love even more.

Those graduates who will get jobs are either in one of the few fields that have lots of openings, or the ones who are willing to try, try, and try again no matter how many rejections – or worse yet, unreturned phone calls – they must face.

They will take unpaid or low-paid internships (now that's a whole other conversation) and hope to work their way up. They will sling burgers or fold cardigans until whatever debt they've accumulated is paid off, hopefully taking on projects that interest them on the side until they can secure a full-time position.

Despite all the reports of doom and gloom, don't worry about us. We're going to be just fine.

(Kelly Goff is graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in journalism.)

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