The Value of a Degree
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
The Value of a Degree
In the article "Arguing Our Value," by Jennifer Brannock Cox, the student Jill (not her real names) struggles with the question "Is it worth it?" Jill works full-time, attends classes, and is part of a few organizations, and at times it gets overwhelming for her. I can completely relate to Jill's struggles, as I am also overwhelmed at times. I work full-time, I am a student, I am a mother of six kids, and I participate in a couple of activities that allow me to blow off some steam. It's hard to keep it all organized at times, and I've thought about giving up school again, but the benefits of getting a higher education far outweigh the extra hours quitting would add to my week. There are several benefits to having a college degree: higher wages, more opportunities to advance, and being a valued asset to the company you work for are just a few.
To begin with, employees with a degree enter the workforce at a higher rate of pay than someone without a degree. When I started working at EMC over eight years ago, I was thrilled to just have a job. I didn't have a high school diploma or a college degree. About five years later, I was still earning a low salary and had received very few raises. I decided to make a change and go back to school. About a year after I started working toward a degree, and making my progress known to upper management, I suddenly started receiving higher raises each year as well as receiving bonuses to celebrate my accomplishments. I had the opportunity to hire a new employee to work on my team a couple years ago. I was surprised when I saw the starting pay was thousands of dollars more than what I had started at. When I questioned the amount, I was told that a degree raises the starting base pay by a certain percentage. It took me over five years to receive the same rate of pay as this person's starting pay. The more I work on meeting my educational goals, the more I have been rewarded by my company, but I sometimes wonder how much I would be making today if I had started with that increased percentage that people who have a degree start at. It is great motivation for me to keep following the path toward my degree.
The author makes a good point when she writes, "Most career-track jobs nowadays require [degrees]." It is a simple statement, but a very true one. I see more and more often that the jobs I would like to advance to in EMC have a degree requirement more advanced than my current educational path. This includes the position I currently hold. I was fortunate to be promoted to my current job based on the experiences I had garnered over the past eight years. Someone applying for my job today must have at least a bachelor's degree along with several years experience in the field. These days, a high school diploma just isn't going to get you very far. In fact, I have seen some applicants passed over for someone with a degree. I was very fortunate to get my job, and I've been fortunate that the work I have done in the past was taken into consideration. I advanced solely on my work and my reputation. That doesn't happen very often, and so I feel that I'll stay in the job I have until I am able to meet the degree requirements for the next job up the corporate ladder.
Finally, Ms. Cox writes that in her own experience, she was "given the fantastic opportunity to fail" while she was in college. She likened her experience to "juggling knives while wearing body armor." Learning how to do something is one of the things we expect from our degree. Something we don't expect is to learn at the same time how not to do things. This opportunity to fail in a safe place can definitely be a benefit because it won't cost us our jobs. Making mistakes teaches us not only what not to do, but also how to avoid making that mistake over again-and how to fix it if it does happen again.
There are several side-benefits to working through college, one of which is time management. I know from personal experience how one area of life can overlap into another. If you aren't good at time management, life becomes chaotic and frenzied. I've learned how to juggle work, school, singing, and family over the years, and I've learned that sometimes you have to compromise. I'm sure there will be several more times when I'll want to throw in the towel because things become too overwhelming, but I am also sure that the thought will be a fleeting one because I have already experienced the benefits of pursuing a degree.
It's easy to just tell people they need a higher education; after all, that's what I did with my own kids. It was only after my youngest graduated from college that I decided to get a degree myself. Since then, I have experienced the rewards of a higher salary increase than I received before, I've been promoted to a position that used to be out of reach, and I have the future opportunity to advance even further. Because of the things the author failed at in college, she discovered how to get things right. She learned to "absorb education not just in the classroom" but also throughout her life. This skill made her more valuable to every employer that she worked for, and gave her confidence to keep learning. If Jill were to come to me today and ask "Is it worth it?" I would tell her it absolutely is!