College is worth it if done right

I was at my favorite downtown Indianapolis watering hole recently when I struck a conversation with one of the servers who told me she had met a former student of mine.

I teach, part-time, at Ivy Tech Community College and the University of Indianapolis. The server told me that she mentioned she worked at Nicky Blaine’s and the student asked her if she knew me. She said yes.

He then proceeded to tell her that when he first took my class (speech) he couldn’t stand me. Big shocker. He thought I was arrogant and worse, hard.

However, as the class went on through the semester he realized what he was learning was about more than giving speeches. It was being a more effective communicator. And the skill sets he picked up from that class (organization, research, self-confidence, knowing your audience, persuasion) made it a lot easier for him to go into his current field. The student sent his best.

I bring up this story because as many students, young and old, walk across the stage this month, they should keep in mind that what you learn in college goes far beyond what’s taught in a classroom. There is a big debate in the country about the value of college and whether it is worth the debt that some students incur when juxtaposed to the positions waiting for them when they graduate.

I think that is a fair discussion. I think we have put the misleading narrative into too many people’s heads that everyone needs a four-year degree. I have three degrees and have taught college for nearly 15 years, and I will be the first one to tell you not everyone needs a four-year degree.

However, I will argue that in the 21st century, everyone needs some type of post-secondary education beyond high school. Whether it is a four-year degree, associates, certification, to make it in the 21st century, knowledge and critical thinking are currency.

And when college is done right, students walk away with the critical thinking and reasoning skills that will do them well in their personal and professional lives.

And here’s another reason why a post-secondary education is so important.

A recent report concerning jobs and the economy showed that for every person in this country who is out of work, there is a job available. That’s right, there are now as many jobs open as there are unemployed. MarketWatch reported that according to the latest data from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, there were 6.55 million job openings in March. In March, there were 6.59 million unemployed, meaning there are 1.01 unemployed workers for every job.

To put this in perspective, during the 2008 recession, there were 6.67 unemployed people for every one job. Of course, the big challenge is filling those spots.

Marketwatch also reported a separate survey from the National Federation of Independent Business found that 88 percent of companies hiring or trying to hire reported few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill. I am willing to bet my box of cigars and comic books that most of those people out of work don’t have much education past a high school diploma if that much.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for people with less than a high school diploma is nearly twice the national average. I’m just saying.

So, is college worth it? I think, like anything else, if it’s done right it is. However, I don’t think we should confuse college with a post-secondary education. We should encourage all students, and adults for that matter, to continue learning, because in the 21st century knowledge is not only power but currency.

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz is an attorney and the editor and publisher of He is also a frequent contributor to numerous Indiana media outlets. Send comments to [email protected].