Hard Questions – Honest Answers 101


As you consider your journey toward whatever goal you have (ministry, career, etc.), the subject of higher education is certain to enter the process.  An accredited Christian college, a top Christian graduate program, and Seminary are all viable options (and often they are necessary steps) to help reach your goal.

Along the way, you will encounter some hard questions.  Sometimes, the answers to your questions should come from an external source (as opposed to a person or entity that has an interest in their answer!).  This is not to question the credibility of those within an industry – that their position would color their response in order to make their industry look more attractive than appropriate – it is to validate their responses with cross-referenced information (see Proverbs 15:22).

I trust an automaker who tells me that their product is safe.  They have conducted tests in various circumstances and (presumably) have addressed any shortcomings those tests revealed.  I also appreciate the National Transportation and Highway Board to conduct independent tests to confirm the safety of those same vehicles.  It isn’t that the manufacturers are not credible, but they have a direct interest in the impact of the test results: safer cars will sell; unsafe cars will not sell.  Third-party (read: unaffiliated) validation becomes important to prevent (or reveal) self-serving information.

In the same way, the value and benefit of having a higher education degree comes largely from the halls of academia – where there is a direct benefit from students pursuing higher degrees!  While there may be validity in the assessment (of high degrees in the marketplace), independent research should play a significant role in a student’s decision.  This may not truly be a situation where the fox is guarding the hen house, but it is within the same barnyard!

With this in mind, we will now discuss some hard questions and provide some honest answers!

Q: Is a Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree and/or Doctorate necessary for my ministry or career?

A: Maybe.

A definite maybe.  The facts are not very cheerful, though.  The cost of tuition, books, housing and time should reap a benefit (in strict business terms that is ‘return on investment’).  However, at a Bachelor’s Degree level, the job prospects are not great.  According to CareerBuilder.com:

Nearly half (47 percent) of college-educated workers said their first job after college was not related to their college major. Thirty-two percent of college-educated workers reported that they never found a job related to their college major. Among more seasoned workers – those ages 35 and older – that number is 31 percent

And Accenture.com:

Forty-six percent of workers who graduated from college in the past two years [Survey date = 2014] say they are underemployed and working in jobs that do not require their college degrees, an increase from 41 percent of recent graduates in our 2013 survey.

Benefits of a degree do include the fact that it can be a baseline requirement for some jobs.  College graduates generally make more money than non-grads do; but that is not as big a distinction as it once was.  In fact, spending 4 years pursuing a degree in some fields (like tech) may be a handicap as compared to someone who interned at a tech company and got hands-on experience with the current level of technology!

Many hiring managers look for a degree only as a demonstration of the pursuit of a goal and completion of a program – regardless of what that program was!  This may diminish the value of the specific program in favor of merely BEING a college-level program!

Opinions are split on the issue and you can find just as many pro college opinions as opposite.  Most often, the benefits of a college education are stated in these bullet points:

  1. Higher earnings – at start and downstream.

Cheatsheet.com reported that the average starting salary for a college grad is $46,000 whereas the starting salary for a high school grad is $32,000.  While $14,000 per year looks significant, that income comes with debt (which will likely eat up $50-100/month for the rest of your life); this will require a value judgment as to whether or not the time and expense if worth the income (and the income difference does not account for the 4 years of time between high school and college – the data for 4 years’ experience and raises is not available for a truly head-to-head comparison).

  1. Many jobs require a college degree.

Certain professions will not entertain an application that does NOT have a degree attached.  And there are those companies that will only advance staff that has a degree (regardless of the actual degree field).  However, the typical industries where this occurs are teaching, health care and legal – there are far more industries that will not have the requirement.

  1. The college experience will help a student mature and become more responsible.

The idea of “responsibility” being mentioned in the same breath as “college” is not necessarily valid.  Next time you see (or attend) a college sporting event, try to picture the bleacher occupants in a board room.  Enough said.

A Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley published an article in November 2014 stating that in the early 1980’s, college grads earned 64% more than high school grads.  That difference swelled to 98% more in 2013.  However, he cites a huge qualification: a college degree does not guarantee a job in today’s market!  He then cites that according to the Federal Reserve Bank of NY, 46% of college graduates are working in jobs that don’t require degrees.

This, he claims, is a driving force on the income disparity: college grads are doing diploma-level work, so diploma holders are pushed farther down the employment chain to more menial (lower paying) jobs.

This is certainly still the case in our recent post-recession economy as college grads who spent 2 years looking for work are taking any opportunity available – to the detriment of high school graduates.

When you review the data, it is sadly inconclusive for most high school graduates.  Yes, college is definitely in the path for high-level medical professionals (doctors, nurses, researchers and clinicians), law and engineering disciplines.  But for many other fields, the answer is not so clear-cut.  For the typical student, pursuing a degree is worthwhile; the benefits are measurable.  But it is still a decision that requires much more research to confirm your choice.