Is college necessary?

keuka collegeDr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, President of Keuka College, writes in favor of liberal education in a guest editorial which appeared in the Elmira Star-Gazette on October 8, 2014. Díaz-Herrera responded to a Salon article by Robert Reich with a provocative title: 

Robert Reich: College is a ludicrous waste of money

Here is a bit of what Robert Reich wrote:

This week, millions of young people head to college and universities, aiming for a four-year liberal arts degree. They assume that degree is the only gateway to the American middle class. It shouldn’t be. For one thing, a four-year liberal arts degree is hugely expensive. Too many young people graduate laden with debts that take years if not decades to pay off. And too many of them can’t find good jobs when they graduate, in any event. So they have to settle for jobs that don’t require four years of college. They end up overqualified for the work they do, and underwhelmed by it. Others drop out of college because they’re either unprepared or unsuited for a four-year liberal arts curriculum. When they leave, they feel like failures. We need to open other gateways to the middle class.

As Díaz-Herrera noted, the Salon title isn’t reflected in the text. Reich’s central point is: “We need to open other gateways to the middle class.” Here is the meat of Díaz-Herrera’s rebutal:

In 2011-12, more than 25 percent of students who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from a four-year independent college or university did not have any debt at all and the average debt load was $19,500 …  lifetime earnings of college degree holders range from $700,000 to $1 million more than those who have only a high school diploma.

These two authors probably agree more than they disagree:

  • Robert Reich writes that we need to open affordable gateways to the middle class for some.
  • Díaz-Herrera writes that college is still affordable for many and often seems worth the cost.

Both authors would likely agree that a liberal college education ought to be affordable for those who are interested and qualified, and that there ought to be affordable educational opportunities for all.

© William Hungerford – October 2014


About whungerford

* Contributor at where we discuss the politics, economics, and events of the New New York 23rd Congressional District (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, (Eastern) Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben,Tioga, Tompkins, and Yates Counties) Please visit and comment on whatever strikes your fancy.
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18 Responses to Is college necessary?

  1. josephurban says:

    What is the purpose of a “liberal education” ? Is it to get a job? Is it to prepare for a career? Is it to become a more intelligent, well-rounded individual? Is it to hone your critical thinking ? Is it to become a better, more productive citizen?
    Each student needs to think about these issues before they decide on a higher education. For some students a community college education may be enough to jump start a career or open up job opportunities. For other students a well-rounded education may be hat they are looking for, without regard to specific, long term job opportunities. Other students may know exactly what they want to do in life and are able to focus on a specific degree and possibly graduate degrees as well.
    In any case, there is no one right answer for a youngster, or for society. We need technically adept people. We need well-rounded people who can fit into any number of positions which require critical thinking. And we need those people who are intent on becoming experts in their field.
    “Different strokes for different folks” (Sly and the Family Stone, Everyday People)


  2. whungerford says:

    Sadly, neither Robert Reich nor Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera noted the intangible benefits of a liberal education which have been long recognized as key to civilization and democratic government.


  3. BOB McGILL says:

    and we all know just how civilized society is and if the monkey business that goes on in Washington is an example of democratic government we need to figure out a better way


  4. BOB McGILL says:

    how about getting a job first and perhaps the employer will help pay for college, thats what a lot of people did in the past. That way you can improve your skills in a position you already have. Here in the 23 there aren’t many jobs that require a college degree.
    I’ll bet Dr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, President of Keuka College can’t change a flat tire. 🙂


  5. Barbara Griffin says:

    Regarding that last comment, Bob, I think you need a reality check. Many employers don’t want to pay a living wage or offer benefits, let alone help pay for college. Still living in the 1960’s?


  6. BOB McGILL says:

    ‘ NO ‘ but you are obviously living under a ROCK.…/2010-06-03-wal-mart_N.htm‎Cached
    Jun 3, 2010 … Wal-Mart is offering its employees reduced-tuition college credits … million over three years to help workers pay for books and tuition above the …
    ” Are you looking for information about the Walmart Foundation scholarship programs? The retail giant’s foundation offers two different types of scholarships. One program is designated to help employees pay to attend school themselves. The other is to provide financial assistance to dependents of employees who want to go to college immediately after completing high school or earning a Graduation Equivalency Diploma (GED). .”


  7. josephurban says:

    Part 1. Walmart is spending approximately $ 50 million over three years to give SOME assistance to workers who choose to attend the “on-line universiyy” approved by WalMart. That is a good thing. It means at least some workers will have access to an on-line degree
    Part 2. Because WalMart (one of the biggest and most profitable corporations in the world) pays such low ages, many of it’s workers rely on GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE to survive. Each year the US taxpayer shells out over $300 million in food stamps to WalMart employees. Pretty good business model, wouldn’t you say ? Let the taxpayer pay for my workers food .
    Part 3. So, over 3 years Walmart costs the US taxpayer almost $ 1 BILLION and returns $50 million to help upgrade their own workers. Sounds like a pretty good deal for WalMArt, doesn’t it?
    Part 4. Here’s a better idea. Pay your workers a living wage and stop taking MY TAX DOLLARS to run your company.


  8. Pingback: Is college a ticket to a middle-class income? | Phil Ebersole's Blog

  9. BOB McGILL says:

    Employer: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc
    Hourly Rate Range by Job

    Job (Number Reporting)
    National Data (?
    ) $0 $7 $14 $21

    [-] Cashier (259)

    $1.01 – $17.36
    Hourly Rate
    $7.51 – $10.72
    Go to Cashier at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc salaries »
    Go to all Cashier salaries »

    [+] Sales Associate (163)
    $7.58 – $12.76
    Pharmacy Technician (129)
    $8.89 – $14.06

    [+] Overnight Stocker (118)
    $7.80 – $13.41


  10. josephurban says:

    Bob.Good point. All those wages staring at less than $8 an hour are why we spend millions on welfare for WalMart employees. $ 8/ hour equals $ 16,640 per year, if you work 40 hours a week with no vacation days. Before taxes. If anyone thinks that is a living wage I suggest they try to live on that for 2 or 3 years. Which is why we sudsidize WalMart with our food stamp program. Corporate welfare.
    Back the statistics. The average WalMart worker with 19 years with the company makes $ 12.27 per hour or $ 25, 526 per year .(Source: Payscale, update Oct 7,2014) Before taxes. The US taxpayer has been subsidizing WalMart for years. Time to end this corporate welfare.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. BOB McGILL says:

    so you expect new employees to start at the top of the pay scale. Such highly skilled positions such as stocking shelves should be paid much higher I suppose.


  12. BOB McGILL says:

    We just completed a major study of human capital trends around the world (Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends, 2,500 organizations in 90 countries) and the message is clear: companies are struggling to engage our modern, 21st century workforce.

    This is a worldwide issue. Gallup research shows that only 13% of employees around the world are actively engaged at work, and more than twice that number are so disengaged they are likely to spread negativity to others.


  13. BOB McGILL says:‎CachedSimilar
    Nov 6, 2013 … Lack of Skilled Workers Likely will Combine with Aging Demographics to Cause
    Real Labor Challenges; Young Workers Disdain …
    your arguement is bogus, there are around thousands of jobs in New York that aren’t filled because younger people don’t want to work and don’t have the skills
    “Creating good paying jobs here in CNY is vital to keeping our communities strong, but we also need to make sure we have the trained workforce needed to fill those jobs,” Assemblyman Stirpe said. “It’s time to start focusing on building a stronger, better workforce.”


  14. josephurban says:

    New York has been slowly recovering from the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Over the last 21 months there has been a steady increase in private sector employment. (NY State Department of Labor). Upstate unemployment is about 5.8% (compared to almost 7 % a year ago) and downstate is about 6.3% (compared to almost 8% a year ago). While the rates are higher than we would like, the trend over the last 2 years has been in the right direction. The private sector is recovering. In fact, private sector jobs in NY are at an all-time high, 7.6 million workers.That is good news.And as the economy slowly continues to recover we will see more private sector employment.


  15. josephurban says:

    No one suggests that new employees start at the top of the pay scale. that is a red herring. However, I do suggest that the bottom of the pay scale for adults be increased for full-time workers to a living wage. That is a completely different ball of wax.


  16. BOB McGILL says:

    but a lot of people want to work part time, more than you think. Look at all the retired people that can only make a certian amount before losing part of their SS.


  17. BOB McGILL says:

    you’re nuts, New York hasn’t recovered from the recession of 1973 !


  18. josephurban says:

    Good, factual response. Shows a real depth of research.


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