Is College Really Worth it?

The value of a college degree today

Whenever the economy is down, the question arises: Why bother with college?  During the worst recession in decades, reports said the cost of a degree had increased 1,120 percent in 35 years; job prospects for college grads had fallen to the lowest level in more than 10 years; public funding for higher education has declined, and student loan debt hit $1 trillion. Meanwhile, famous college dropouts like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates have become billionaires. People began to ask, “Is college really worth it?” That’s our question for Roundtable.

Len Penzo

Len Penzo

Engineer and personal finance blogger

The time spent in college earning a degree can often be put to better use gaining experience. True, certain professions, like medicine and engineering, require college degrees. But there are plenty of jobs out there where it makes more sense to skip college and immediately embark on a career, because on-the-job experience is more valuable than a post-high school education. And while those who decide to skip college won't have a college degree after four years, they will have accrued four years of valuable experience. Even better—with the average cost of tuition, room and board for a four-year college approximately $20,000 annually—they’ll be $180,000 ahead in the ledger book, assuming they earned a modest average salary of $25,000 annually over that same period.

Dale J. Stephens

Dale J. Stephens

Founder of UnCollege, the social movement empowering students to create their own education

Yes, the college world likes to point out that if you go to college you’ll earn more. But in our society, smart, motivated people tend to go to university. What if those same smart, motivated people went out and forged their own path? What if they weren’t forced to raise their hand to go to the bathroom and take standardized tests, and could go out and engage their passions?


Robert Bulman

Robert Bulman

Saint Mary’s professor of sociology

Going to college is many things. On the one hand, it provides you with the resources to develop skills that will enhance your contributions to society: critical thinking, effective communication, collaboration with others, creative problem solving, cross-cultural understanding, and the ability to work well under pressure. On the other hand, it gives you the credential, the symbolic seal of approval that opens doors to the world of employment and promotion. Just as importantly, however, college is a gift of time—a precious opportunity to grow spiritually, to mature personally, to play socially, and to ponder for the sake of pondering.


Pope John Paul II

Pope john Paul II

Ex Corde Ecclesiae

Every Catholic University feels responsible to contribute concretely to the progress of the society within which it works: for example it will be capable of searching for ways to make university education accessible to all those who are able to benefit from it, especially the poor or members of minority groups who customarily have been deprived of it.


Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban

American businessman, investor, philanthropist and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks

As an employer I want the best prepared and qualified employees. I could [sic] care less if the source of their education was accredited by a bunch of old men and women who think they know what is best for the world. I want people who can do the job. I want the best and brightest. Not a piece of paper


Bethani A. Dobkin

Bethami A. Dobkin

Saint Mary’s provost and vice president for academic affairs

We know that a college degree more than doubles an undergraduate student’s potential lifetime earnings, and graduate degrees bring both higher salaries and career advancement.  But the journey of a Saint Mary’s education is about much more than letters behind your name or checking off tasks that have been completed. You’ll learn how to engage in respectful dialogue, express yourself eloquently and articulate connections among ideas. You’ll learn how to live in community, with skills of leadership, collaboration and bridging difference. You’ll learn how to harness the power of the word, and as you do so, you’ll discover yourself and your place in the world. You’ll end up not just with a job, but with a life guided by a purpose.


Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.

JP Musgrove

JP Musgrove '07

president-elect, Alumni Association Board of Directors

College provides a unique intersection between critical thinking and transformative learning. In a world where unprecedented challenges exist, primitive thinking becomes insufficient. Albert Einstein once stated, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Solving the world’s problems requires cutting-edge leadership and education. Colleges—Saint Mary’s College, in particular—stand on the leading edge of preparing today’s thinkers for the needs of tomorrow. Each one of us possesses unique gifts that carry life-changing potential. There is no better place to refine great potential than at a college.

Carole SwainCarole Swain

Saint Mary’s vice president for mission

For young adults whose curiosity is stimulated by study, the academic and co-curricular opportunities of college are limitless.  Leaving the security of home for college, students encounter diverse worldviews, cultural experiences and challenges to their core values. A college community offers them opportunities to cross boundaries, make informed choices, discipline their minds and become individuals with dignity who embrace collective responsibilities for the common good.


Dan Murphy

Dan Murphy '13

Saint Marys sociology/communication major

College has been one of the most exciting times for me. With a mix of learning useful skills for the future and making lifelong friends, so many opportunities have come my way at Saint Mary’s. I would have surely regretted missing out on these memories if college had not been in my plans. If someone wants to figure out a little bit about themselves and a lot about others, I feel they should head to college at some point. These are years you can’t get back, so you have to make the most of them.