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College Degrees: Personal Protection as well as Personal Achievement

The Atlanta Journal Constitution is reporting today that neither the incumbent lieutenant governor, running for reelection, nor the Republican challenger for governor (and current secretary of state) have college degrees.�� The article goes on to discuss successful people who have gotten to the top without a degree: Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft), Steve Jobs (founder of Apple) and Michael Dell (Dell Computers) all dropped out of college.�� The irony for Dell is the fact that he began his business selling computers out of his dorm room.

There has also been a lot of noise in the media recently about the diminishing value of a college degree, because too many students emerge from their postsecondary education experience saddled with enormous debt.�� Repaying that debt, the argument goes, offsets any increase in earnings over a lifetime that may be the result of higher education.

There are plenty of statistics to prove this thesis, and just as many to refute it as the debate goes on.�� A balanced piece in the New York Times discusses a formula to apply to the question, "How Much is Too Much for College?"�� A fair question, but one that misses an important statistical fact which is very much a product of our times.

The impact of our economic downturn, no matter what it is called, is having a much bleaker effect on those with less education.�� In May, the Wall Street Journal reported that the unemployment rate for high school graduates was at 10%, up from 5.2% a year prior.�� For college graduates, the May unemployment rate was 4.8%, up from 2.3% a year earlier.

Today, two weeks into July, the national unemployment rate stands at 9.5% so those figures cannot have improved much.�� Also important is the fact that many of the jobs that have disappeared aren't coming back.�� Many of the new employment opportunities in fields like technology require a level of training or education in order to gain consideration.

If you just look at the statistics, a college degree means there is an increased possibility that your job will survive during hard times.�� All of that is subject to personal situation, but the message that is conveyed is powerful.�� On the other hand, a high school grad that has lost a job critical to family support is in a better position today than ever before to upgrade both education and job opportunities.�� An online school can keep family disruption to a minimum and may be cheaper than a traditional college.

Trade schools are offering online training; in many cases, learning a trade such as electronics can be as valuable with an associate's degree as with a bachelor's degree in the right situation.�� It's a matter of getting in the door, and increasingly that requires some element of expertise provided in the form of a degree.

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