Are degrees worthless?

Last week saw a rash of articles talking about some big name companies (Google, Apple etc) have removed the need for university degrees as a requirement for employment.

This sparked conversation about whether degrees provided any value any more.

Should young kids leaving school even bother going to university (college) any more?

Are degrees worthless?

To answer that we need to think in economic terms.

Introducing The Price-Value Equation
Everything has a price and a value and these are definitely not the same thing.

Warren Buffet is quoted to have said "Price is what you pay, value is what you get."

The price is the amount of money/time/goods you outlay. This is the cost to you.
The value is the amount of positive impact that item has on you and your life.

You want the price to be as low as possible and the value to be as high as possible, and the value should be higher than the price. Ideally much higher.

When it comes to university degrees the price-value equation is pretty easy. You pay for the education on the assumption it dramatically improves your future career, including your lifetime earning potential.

And for decades these degrees did just that. Swathes of jobs have listed specific degrees as mandatory entry requirements, essentially locking uneducated people out of the marketplace and guaranteeing the educated more opportunities and more money.

The degree has always had a high amount of overall value.

But we're starting to see changes to the price-value equation. The overall price to study is rising sharply, students are incurring greater costs, which means they need to forecast a bigger value return in the future.

This tension, the rising fear around student loans, and complexity of the job market has led to many people questioning whether getting a degree is actually worthwhile any more.

Is there any value in getting a degree any more?

Yes, but its not as black and white as it once was.

It used to be that any degree, say even one in advanced knitting techniques, would have had a net positive effect on the student's life. Degrees were scarce in the marketplace and post-graduate jobs were easy to come by.

But the marketplace has changed.

Now each degree needs to be carefully assessed to determine if it holds any value.

The choice of degree is an important decision and it needs to be carefully considered from a price-value perspective. Every single course needs to be assessed to determine if it present a positive price-value opportunity.

This applies to ALL forms of learning and qualifications throughout your entire career, not just degrees.

Is that official university degree in Computer Science worth $40,000?
Is that Certificate IV in Project Management worth that $5,000?
Is that online course in Underwater Basket Weaving worth $200?

Each of those could be a valid option for you at a different points in your career. You might need that official degree to kickstart your career, the extra certificate to qualify for a specific job, and that online course to double down on some specific skills that will make you more employable.

Each learning opportunity, every moment of study, and every qualification must be assessed based on the price-value equation.

The value of any learning opportunity comes down to two basic questions:

  1. How much knowledge, skill, and experience will you gain?
  2. How much could those gains add to your earning potential?

Learning is great. Improving yourself is great. But each opportunity to study something needs to be weighed up in the light of price versus value.

Don't waste time and money studying something that provides little future value.

Zac Sky

TLDR: Getting a degree is NOT worthless but it is not just the easy door-opening queue-jumping guarantee it once was. There is always value in learning, and most degrees are no different, but ultimately it comes down to the economics of the price-value equation. Will the value provided outweigh the price you pay?