Infographic of the Day: Is College Really Worth It?

What do kids really do when they go off to college? Answers: Facebook like maniacs and spend money they don't have.

Is going to college really worth it? Probably so, but it's not that clear cut, and economics have been arguing the point for 30 years. Most studies tend to show that college-educated people end up making far more money in the course of their lifetimes. (The niggle: Usually, it's not worth paying for a private university.)

Still, that evidence isn't totally cut and dry: What do you really learn in college? Is what you learned in college really what's producing the value? Or is it simply the mere fact of having a college degree? Or maybe there's something more subtle going on—that is, people who go to college tend to be more motivated or hard-working and would have ended up succeeding whatever they did?

This graph makes a couple points in that debate: 1. Whatever kids are doing in college, it doesn't seem to be about getting an education. (Witness how students spend their hours every week.) 2. Some majors don't really qualify you for much.


But who in their right mind wouldn't recommend a college degree?

If I had a guess, I think it's precisely that attitude that creates all the economic advantages—its the way our society is organized, rather than anything about college itself. What's totally clear is that we definitely do not go about attending or paying for college in a way that makes any sense at all.

[Luxury Spot via WeLoveDataVis; I suspect this graphic is actually from OnlineEducation but couldn't find it on their Web site You can find the original at Online Colleges and Universities, which seems to affilated with OnlineEducation]

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  • Molly

    Sorry, but what the hell is wrong with majoring in Winemaking? It is an extremely well respected profession, and all of the courses involved are science-based. Maybe you should do some research before pointing the finger at certain professions and trying to make them seem laughable.  Canadian studies are also very important to international relations... This is a very biased, general and poorly researched "infographic".

  • Daniel Wall

     Bashing specific majors and specific classes is an old sport, especially for those uninterested in the quality of education. ...bottom line is that it's a cheap shot. Some of the rest, not so much.

  • Bruce Ackerson

    As a long time professor at a state university, I saw and complained that recently students were taking on too much debt to attend the university. This is a problem because at some point, like now, students will not be rewarded for the sacrifice. There will be a revolt against the system.

    In addition there are contradictory pressures, when the university is viewed as a profit making business. Faculty are rewarded for research which brings external funding to the university and the resulting "overhead" charges help fund university programs, while at the same time state governments decrease their share of total university funding (currently down to 1/3 of total funding). Student instruction can become an unwelcome step child in the scheme of things. There remain excellent teachers but only as a matter of chance rather than by design.

    However students, who are motivated and find (oftentimes paid positions) to work on research with faculty, receive an excellent education and connections to professional networks. This approach reduces greatly the problems mentioned above. I followed this path, as did my son, both of us finding excellent positions of employment during hard economic times.

    So the true cost of an education is not money. And students must realize that they are not buying a degree. Act accordingly. The true cost is what it always has been: blood, sweat and tears. But when you find the discipline that motivates you to the core, you simply don't realize how hard you are working. Only a few students are brave enough to sample widely and find their core motivation. Most would rather spend their parents money or their future income to party now and pay later. We are only human. Conditions have been easy for a few decades and we have adapted to that as a culture. But now, times have changed.

  • Ryan James

    I graduated last December from a college in Colorado. At the moment, I am working two food industry jobs and saving for pieces for my cameras (3) and money to travel. At the same time, I am successfully networking into the field I discovered an interest in during my junior year of college. The life experiences of a four year university much outweigh the cost you pay for the traditional knowledge in selected fields. Basically, I paid for the partying, fun, social networking, chance at discovery of things I wouldn't think to do on my own, books, BOOZE, etc. All in all, if I knew I was going to be $33k in debt at the end and have no job (in my field) after I graduated....I would do it all over again in a heart beat. College is not paying for what people can stuff into your head. You are paying for opportunities to discover a love for something off of your normal beaten path. If your college helps you to become a super brain, and that's the type of person you want to be - great. If college teaches you how to be a good person and think critically - sweet. If you flunk out and learn that you have no drive - even better. Teachers are biased, under-qualified, finicky, cruel, and self absorbed at the worst. At best they are inspiring, grand, sickly nice, and make you want to better yourself even AFTER YOU GRADUATE. If you don't agree with America's way of doing college, USE OUR COLLEGE SYSTEM TO STUDY ABROAD AND DO IT ANY OTHER COUNTRIES WAY.

  • jpeachy

    I want to know if they took into account the percentage of people that didn't get a job directly after graduating. I think it has probably gone up in the last few years. I know of at least a few people that have gotten bachelor degrees in those "top 10" categories that are now completely unable to find any work, and plenty more that are working retail or some other menial job paying minimum wage.

    I also want to say that the cost of colleges is nothing compared to private day schools in big cities. My son is special needs and his school costs $90k a year (that is just tuition no food included). When I think about how much that will cost over the course of his lifetime taking into account the rate of inflation and the amount of time he will be in school it makes me shutter. Throw college in on top of that and I could buy nice condo in lower Manhattan.

  • Dom Brassey

    I'm with Kevin Smith. This infographic aims to make college frivolous and offers credibility to those who would collapse institutions of higher learning because they hate privileged idiocy...but don't have the focus, energy, or will to *work* for broadly-available, inclusive systems which foster deep, careful and reflective critical thinking -- and train generations of Americans to actively engage rigorous social, political, intellectual and spiritual citizenship. College is work. Maybe more working class people should be admitted.

  • Wendy Wells

    Maybe "kids" shouldn't be going to college at all. Perhaps if after graduating from high school, they were sent out to work for a number of years in whatever type of jobs they could land, they might appreciate an advanced education enough to utilize it properly. By that I mean: concentrating on studies, learning what they're supposed to know in order to succeed in the business (medical, engineering, professional, etc.) world, and unlocking the mystery that escapes so many of them of how to become better communicators.
    As an adult or non-traditional student, who went back to school to earn two graduate degrees, I can attest to the fact that I worked hard in my classes, was respectful to my professors, and have taken what I learned into the business world. Whether I'm teaching others or running my own company, I know that without the advanced education from a state university, I would still be unhappily working in the food and beverage industry knowing I was meant for something else.

  • Stacy Braswell

    Thank you for this. Ive suspected this for years but could never put my finger on it.

  • Kevin Smith

    I see where you are going with this, but it seems like this infographic's sample size is a little bit narrow. Almost no one I knew in college studied only 8 hours a week. Also - those people who take 6 years to complete - are they including the people who work 40 hours a week and take 1-2 classes a semester?

  • Heller Jonathan

    This looks pretty cool for our openers. WHY go to college and then the cost of public vs. private.

    Jon Heller

  • Gary Murphy

    George is indeed correct: if the author of the graphic had any education to speak of, the results would have been very different. For example, if the majority of students are "wasting time and money" it only means, as we know from every other human domain, that 80% are paying for the dilligent 20% who otherwise could not afford the whole thing. This is why colleges HAVE undergrad schools (few profs struggled so hard all those years just to teach bored undergrads who can't even balance their chequebook) -- the bachelors is to this century what Highschool once was, a badge of basic discipline and minimal competence with tools.

    But let us remember where Universities originated: they were churches. Today there is a stigma against the social advantages of church societies, so the Universities now fill the role of social club for the Secular Humanists; the REASON for all those parties is the forging of human connections, connections that will get you that top-job at Starbucks, and later at the Bank or Aeronautics lab. All that social media goes with a whole Univers(e) of people who are bound to you by no more than a label of a doctrine or a common textbook, suddenly someone you can contact out of the blue and ask for advice or assistance. Yes, this can happen in other 'Churches' too, in choirs and symphony orchestras, in football clubs, even, yes, in organized crime gangs. It is the same dynamic, only with the University Universe, you have preselected an important trait in your new friends: People with access to MONEY. Or at least access to credit.

    So there is value to the Undergraduate, but only to the economist who has their eyes open to more than the shock-headlines.

  • Corvida Raven

    Man what a waste of money. Sounds like the American education system needs a serious makeover. The last part of the infographic is just sad. 6/10 bach degrees are earned by women, yet we're making $10000+ less than men. Really makes you wonder about the world we live in.

  • Aaron Barr

    I think, it's about money. If only other people already know how to earn money easily, they won't waste their time attending college just to listen to their teachers and to pretend that they are studying.

    Aaron Barr