Degrees are valuable, regardless of their economic opportunities

Elitism and misogyny play a big role in undervaluing certain credentials

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A group of graduates in their graduation gowns
PHOTO: RUT MIIT / Unsplash

By: C Icart, Humour Editor

What do you want out of your degree? Have you considered that not everyone’s answer may be the same? Starting my third degree in social sciences has prompted nosy questions and unsolicited comments all over again: What job do you plan on getting with that? Are your job prospects worth the debt? You can get a better-paying job by going into the trades! 

Sure, I could respond by saying I can get a well-paid job, and fortunately for me, I am not one of the millions of Canadians drowning in debt to the federal government. However, this response doesn’t address my real problem with this line of thinking. Like many of my fellow Gen Z folk, I do not dream of labour. I reject the idea that the only way of assessing value is through capitalism. I resent that money plays a massive role in choices regarding post-secondary education because of capitalism.

If you’re attending university for better job prospects, you are not alone. The rising cost of living and tuition are valid things to consider. But there are other reasons to learn. I’m really passionate about my research interests and would be miserable studying business, for example. What is the value of knowledge, life experience, and skills? Do we, as a society, remember how to quantify those things in non-monetary ways? Degrees have value beyond the economic opportunities they may provide.

Using job prospects to rank degrees is a problematic practice. For one, the amount of money related to a career is not directly proportional to the value that career provides to society. If you wouldn’t argue that we don’t need English teachers, you shouldn’t be putting down English majors. 

Fields typically associated with women, such as education, are systemically undervalued. This is one of the reasons behind the gender pay gap that still exists in so-called Canada. Women largely outnumber men in many health care and social service related occupations —  sectors that are notoriously underpaid. Women entering fields dominated by men with no additional support is not an adequate solution because these industries are often hostile towards them. They regularly face barriers such as discrimination, hostility, and harassment in STEM.

I will not downplay what getting a degree can do for you financially, nor do I think it’s responsible to encourage people to enroll in certain programs without being transparent with them about job prospects in that field. Everyone deserves to afford to live, regardless of their educational background. People from all fields make valuable contributions to our communities. You are not better than someone else because you are not “going to become a barista,” especially if you regularly go to coffee shops. You shouldn’t be using a service while also looking down on the people who provide it. 

As the cost of post-secondary goes up and many online news sources and academic journals are behind paywalls, I worry about the accessibility of learning. That being said, our local libraries are still precious sources of information.

I fear that, as a society, we have forgotten that knowledge is inherently valuable in unquantifiable ways. This is why I believe we shouldn’t use the phrase “not using a degree” when speaking about people who work in fields that are different from what they studied. You still learned all those things. You still had the life experience of attending university. You still met people and developed skills. All those essays you wrote likely improved your writing and critical thinking skills, which are highly useful in a number of workplaces. You did not waste your time.

The “hard sciences” and “soft sciences” debate, and the jokes and ridicule towards certain majors must end. They’re elitist, misogynistic, and don’t point to the real problem. The problem is not people getting arts degrees. The problem is that arts, and fields associated with the social sciences, are often devalued. Universities are not solely spaces to produce workers. How would we interact with universities if our perspective framed them as spaces to develop knowledge or community improvement? Most importantly, what economic changes would need to happen for that perspective to be accessible to everyone, without having to worry about gaining that money back? 

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