Is a College Degree a Commodity?

If this was a yes or no question, the answer would be no. The problem is that it’s not that simple.

Let me preface by saying that there are far smarter people than me studying the field of education and what I am about to say is a combination of personal opinion and facts put gathered from other sources. But it should tell you something about the times we live in.

In the past, a college degree set you apart from the crowd. When only a small percentage of American workers held a degree, it was a slingshot to the top of the workforce. Higher pay, more opportunities.

Today, a college degree is held by an increasing percentage of the workforce. And as more and more people opt for graduate school and even higher degrees, a bachelor’s or associate’s degree is often not good enough.

And even though study after study shows that people with a college degree out-earn those without one, the cost of a traditional four-year college or university continues to rise faster than average incomes. So will this always be the case?

And finally, with the increasing popularity of online schools and for-profit universities, a college degree is within reach for a greater percentage of the population. But many would argue that the cost of increased access to a college education is a drop in quality and/or academic standards.

So what is a college degree really worth?

In my opinion, the value of college degrees varies very little from school to school, with the exception of a few highly-reputable schools at the top. Unless you have a graduate degree, or a 4-year degree from a top school, where you go to school matters very little (discounting the people and the experience).

For the most part, a degree is a degree is a degree. I know most people would argue that, but I think a growing number of people would support it. And if that trend continues, the only reasonable prediction to make is that those granting degrees will either have to differentiate in some major way, or compete on price. And that may finally lead to the bursting of the tuition bubble we’re in right now.

And personally, I hope that bubble bursts.

Get WiSE About Personal Finance


Today I wanted to put the spotlight on a local organization that is working to push the issue of personal finance education in our schools, an issue I care strongly about. The organization is Working in Support of Education (WiSE).

WiSE has two arms. One is a national financial literacy program that trains and provides support for teachers across the country who teach personal finance in the classroom. The second works to push policy changes in an effort to spread financial literacy through schools and other vehicles.

WiSE is the New York affiliate of Jumpstart, a national coalition of organizations dedicated to improving the financial literacy of pre-kindergarten through college-age youth by providing advocacy, research, standards and educational resources.

As a part of their financial literacy certification program, they have a blog meant for teachers who are members of the program. The blog, at, offers teachers a collection of topics and trends in the personal finance space that they can use to teach kids in their classes. And as of this month, I will be writing for them.

Check out WiSE, read the blog, and donate today!