A degree is an investment worth celebrating

Published 9:23 am Friday, May 9, 2014

Things I Tell My Wife by Matthew Knutson

“You did it!” I texted to my wife as she made her way back to her seat. I had just proudly watched her walk across Augsburg College’s commencement stage to receive her master’s degree after two years of hard work.

On our way home from the commencement ceremony, Sera’s younger brother finally thought to ask in what field of study she received her master’s degree.

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“I earned my Master of Arts in Leadership, Bubba,” she responded to his inquiry.

“So you got a degree in bossing people around?” he said bluntly.

She smiled and said, “Yes, but also so much more than that.”

Two years ago when Sera began working on her master’s degree, the goal wasn’t to become the master of bossiness, but rather to invest in herself. This weekend we celebrated that investment, and also noticed quite a few others celebrating, too.

When we returned home, Facebook posts from other graduations were taking over our news feeds. My friends and family who didn’t graduate this year were reminiscing on their own ceremonies and sharing those throwback photos. It seems that sense of accomplishment that accompanies graduation doesn’t forever fade away after crossing the stage.

What does fade for many is the hope of getting a decent job in the days following the big graduation celebration. Gone is the notion that college graduates get jobs automatically, though I have to wonder if that stereotype ever actually rang true. As the costs of college increases, many are claiming that the value received isn’t worth the initial investment. I have to disagree, and a recent study seems to be on my side.

On May 5, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco released a survey titled, “Is It Still Worth Going to College?” In it, the survey reveals that by retirement age, the average college graduate has made over $800,000 more than the average high school graduate. Clearly something worthwhile is occurring during those four years earning a bachelor’s degree.

Making an investment in yourself is a difficult concept for many. Debt can seem entirely overwhelming and undefeatable, especially when employers are sending out rejection letters faster than you can edit your resume. Many of my friends have gotten discouraged with applications and express frustration when they land a job that didn’t require a college degree in the first place.

What they aren’t realizing is that college isn’t an investment for only immediately after graduation. It’s something you’ll carry with you and use for the rest of your life. No one would discount the value of basic mathematics you learned in elementary school, and you shouldn’t do the same with the complex theories and research done at the collegiate level.

More importantly, when an individual has actual years of full-time work experience under their belt and begins to look for their next vocational calling, a bachelor’s degree will often put you ahead of the pack.

Thankfully, things are getting better for those looking for jobs. The current U.S. unemployment rate for April 2014 fell to 6.3 percent. The rate for people with a bachelor’s degree or higher was at 3.3 percent, a full 3 points lower than the national rate.

Those against the perceived necessity of higher education frequently point out successful individuals who skipped over the traditional route and created their own success. Certainly a college degree isn’t the only way to invest in yourself, and many people find success through alternative methods.

Those who choose this path may end up attempting college later in life, a trend growing rapidly with new online education opportunities. In 2011, 38 percent of people enrolled in higher education were over the age of 25, and that’s certainly increased in recent years. The value of a college degree doesn’t dissipate with the age of the degree holder.

With the completion of her master’s degree, my wife now joins those many qualified people in the search of a career. The graduation celebration may seem bittersweet when the future is not yet known, but we look forward to seeing how the investment she made in herself will change our lives in the future.

An education shapes who you are while pushing you to grow beyond yourself. It’s an investment worth celebrating.


Rochester resident Matt Knutson is the communications and events director for United Way of Olmsted County.