Friday, July 15, 2011

Burn Your High School Diploma

Image courtesy of superstock.com; could you tell?

It's no secret: Higher education becomes more and more prevalent each year. That's why your high school diploma is worth about as much as a bag full of soda cans.

We've entered a period of somewhat exponential growth in education over the past decade. Where a college degree used to be the key to success, a Master's degree is often seen as necessary. Not all fields of study have reached this level, but it's coming. We have the highly competitive job market to blame for this.

Back when our grandparents were attending public school, many of them dropped out before they even got to high school. They'd go to work for friends and family building a skillset that would take them far in their careers and allow them to provide for an entire (sometimes enormous) family. That's right—it was normal to be a successful seventh-grade dropout.

A limited job market influenced an evolution in education during the next generation. Breakthroughs in science as well as higher standards for language and historical knowledge encouraged many teenagers to push through high school to get their diplomas. This was seen as an easy, logical, and beneficial way to have an advantage over the competitors in the job pool. It also meant that high school dropouts had to take the less desireable jobs—if they could even find them.

Another wave of job scarcity pushed a higher percentage of those high school graduates to go to college. Even a portion of college education was viewed favorably by many employers, but to have the ultimate advantage, a student needed to obtain a Bachelor's degree. Because of the overwhelming number of job applicants with these degrees, many job listings began to weed out those with less education by stating up front that the Bachelor's was a minimum requirement.

Throughout all these years, there have always been college graduates. Doctors always needed to push through a massive amount of schooling to be able to practice medicine, and for good reason; mathematicians, physicists, biologists, and other scientists have always needed the intense studying to grasp these complicated and sometimes abstract concepts. But for those not in the medical or scientific communities, higher education was never really necessary until the push for the Bachelor's degree.

Poor economies and the barren job markets that generally accompany them are typically characterized by a high rate of re-enrollment. This is specifically because those who are unemployed or are seeking a higher-paying job need something to one-up their competition, or they need to learn a new skill set. The damaged economy of the past few years has upped the ante yet again.

Now many disciplines—such as Psychology—practically require an applicant to have a Master's degree to be considered for a decent position. Since a typical college career that results in this level of qualification lasts about seven years, we're now talking about an average education length of twenty years—roughly a quarter of a person's life. Think about that: To get a decent job in Psychology, you need to spend 25% of your life preparing for it.

So what's a high school diploma worth? Pretty much nothing. No employers list it as a requirement. It doesn't get you a discount at the grocery store. The only thing it's used for is allowing you to be considered to enter college. When it comes down to it, graduating high school is basically just a ticket to go to college—but even that doesn't guarantee you'll be accepted.

However, there are plenty of jobs that don't require higher education whatsoever. I'm not just talking about janitors and bus drivers, though these occupations are entirely necessary and an integral part of society. Many hands-on vocations can result in high-paying jobs, but if a dropout can secure a position in a field without the degree, whether via nepotism, charisma, or an impressive grasp on the important material, they might not ever need a degree. Actually, ten years in a career is roughly equivalent to a Bachelor's degree anyway.

Therefore, if an individual is fully aware that they'll never go to college, there's no real reason to finish high school. It would be more beneficial to drop out as quickly as possible and begin focusing on a career. If a student quits school at 16, they can have a decade of job experience under their belt by the age of 26. By this point they've already learned just about everything public school has to offer them anyway. The final two years of high school are basically just college preparatory, and the information that doesn't get retained for later use in college is effectively forgotten. Remember anything from senior English? I don't.

Yep, a high school degree doesn't really mean anything, which is a shame because just living through those four years qualifies you for a medal. I guess it's at least worth the satisfaction of knowing that you completed that level of schooling, but it's definitely not helpful in the job hunt. And when the stakes rise again and we all need doctorates to find work, you'll find yourself wondering: What's the worth of a high school degree? Not a damn thing.

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