The bachelor’s degree has often been considered a gateway to the future by college students across the country. Students who invest their money in a college education do so believing the rewards of attending college outweigh the risks of foregoing a four-year education to pursue work and save money.
Educators and statistics assure us that going to college is the right step for ensuring success in life. But is a bachelor’s degree destined to be a thing only the privileged and exorbitantly wealthy can afford, leaving everyone else to seek means of earning an undergraduate education elsewhere?
Traditional brick-and-mortar colleges and universities are slowly being phased out because of the many technical colleges offering hyper-focused degree programs, promising their graduates employment in the field of their specialty.
With the rise of these institutions, bachelor’s degree holders are becoming a dime a dozen, with the four-year degree becoming so accessible and achievable that the need for an advanced degree is oftentimes the only path to certain jobs.
It is not a bad thing that Americans can receive an education. After all, according to Thomas Jefferson, an educated society is the key to a free society. It just gets to a point where the traditional bachelor’s degree becomes so insignificant that the four-year degree is becoming the new high school diploma.
One factor involved in this predicament among colleges and universities is the cost to students. “For profit” institutions often charge much less in tuition, offering many degree programs without the commitment and investment of time and money studying at a traditional college requires.
This is unfortunate, because I see merit in holding a college degree from a “real” university. To me, it shows the student stepped out on a ledge and did things on their own, independent from their parents and hometowns.
Here at Virginia Tech, we offer many online courses, of which I also see merit in taking, because of their convenience to students lacking a few classes to graduate or to those who want to take them over the summer.
A “real” university that offers online courses to its students is a sign of a progressive institution, with the accessibility and inclusiveness of online courses supporting students’ success. However, the dawn of online education blurs the line between a legitimate college education and one the student completed at a for-profit diploma mill.
Not that brick-and-mortar institutions have much to worry about — most employers would hire someone with a Tech degree over anyone with a degree from an online diploma mill because, in many cases, other schools fail to “educate” their students like traditional colleges do.
Often they don’t require their students to take courses in humanities, science, mathematics and other core subjects because they “don’t need them” in order to achieve their career goals. In contrast, the Curriculum for Liberal Education here often parses the truly qualified applicant with a grounding in other subjects, rather than producing someone who learned how to run certain programs and go through the motions like a machine.
In the end, the bachelor’s degree still carries its weight in the working world. But it is quickly losing its legitimacy, with solutions on how to maintain its status not always so forthcoming.