SOCIETY TALK

Have Bachelor’s degrees lost their value?

Most of 50,000 graduates a year wind up in jobless corner

In Summary

• The ‘education is key to success’ mantra is out of tune with the reality graduates face

• It is telling that four out of the five world’s richest people today did not finish college

Image: PEXELS

I came across a woman on social media talking about how Bachelor’s degrees have lost value. She was speaking from an American context and went into a racial perspective of how degrees started losing value when people of colour started getting them. Before that, having a degree would entitle one to a management position in any company.

This August will be the 10-year anniversary of holding my Bachelor’s degree. The degree hangs up above where I sit to write. As I look at it, I try to summarise the value it has added to my life but I still come up short. Next to it, the framed HELB clearance certificate, a gut-wrenching reminder of what it cost to get that degree. On a lonely hook is my dusty graduation cap tassel with the number ’11 embellished. The only thing we were allowed to keep from that memorable day.  

I stare at my degree, trying to reconcile those four years of training with the last 10 years. Was it worth it? Did that piece of paper help shape me in any way? A tough question. Like most millennials, we grew up learning that school was the only key. Our parents who never had the opportunities in a young democratic country worked hard to give us more than they had. We learnt that the only way we could step into the real world was through the 8-4-4 system. We had to endure eight years of primary education, persevere through four years of secondary education, and privilege our way through another four years of tertiary education.

“What would happen after the four years of tertiary education?” our young minds wondered. Anything! The world would be our oyster. We could step into it and become anything we had dared to dream! Dreams… That is what they sold us. The reality was far from anything we could ever imagine.

By the time I graduated, the market was saturated with Bachelor’s degree holders tarmacking the streets, begging for any entry-level position. My degree and training did get me through the door. I started my media career shortly after graduation; I was one of the lucky ones to be employed so soon after graduating. However, the beginning of my career was cut short when the company went into recession. A harsh reality for one to face at such a young age.

Since then, I used my Bachelor’s degree one more time. Having a Bachelor’s allowed me to pursue postgraduate studies. At that time, having a Master’s was all the rage. It was the only way to elbow out competitors in your field. I never framed or hung my Master’s degree.

My mother finished her A-levels and went straight into the workforce in the 70s. She has never held a degree, but she went on to have a successful 20-year career in the banking industry before she chose early retirement. I hold two degrees and have no semblance of what others would call a career. This goes to show how times have changed, how education might not be the key to success after all.

According to Statista, over 500,000 students were enrolled in universities in Kenya during the academic year 2019-20. A slight reduction from the previous years. Every year, at least 50,000 students graduate. Most of them are hopeful to enter the workforce, but a very small percentage of these graduates will ever see the inside of an office building. A good majority will have student loans that will take almost a lifetime to pay off.

Gen Zs seem to have given up on university altogether. Since the Gen Z were born at the height of the technological advancement era, they have taught themselves how to navigate the World Wide Web more than we ever learnt from class. They have taken away the power of the classroom by diving straight into digital learning. They have found ways to build careers on the Internet and monetise their online platforms, taking away the need for employment.

I believe the new generations will put less emphasis on old-school learning and channel their energy towards innovations and tech solutions. The trend has already started; currently, four out of the five world’s richest people did not finish college.