The Value of College Education: is it worth the hype?

Near the end of every year, many students sit their final and standardized exam at the primary school level, i.e., KCPE. It is in preparation for advancing further along the education system, to be able to proceed to High school. Usually, this is a period of anxiety and excitement as it is a promise of a better life.

Results are released before the year ends, and at the start of the new year, the selection process begins. You are lucky if you get to join the school of your dreams. If you don’t, life still goes on. Either way, it is a chance to further your education and better your chances of succeeding in life.

Four years down the line, you have to sit another national exam. It feels like a make or break period. You either proceed to university, go for vocational training, or start working on what you want your future to be. The opportunity to pursue a college education is thrilling.

Some people choose their majors before completing high school, and others have the opportunity to change their choice of a program at the college level. Depending on your course selection, it may take 4 to 7 years to complete a particular curriculum. That is if, along the way, you don’t face suspension or expulsion.

After completion and as you await graduation, one is filled with the hope of a better tomorrow. Your dreams seem to be in your grip, and you feel you are an unstoppable force, set free into the labor market. It is at this stage of heightened positive emotions that the events happening around you can either propel you forward or be the reason for your fall into the abyss.

Call me naïve, but it is until after graduation that I started to question; is it worth it to go to college? It all depends on the benchmark for analysis, as for this article, I will focus on graduation and employment. As universities admit and spew out more graduates annually, still and all, college graduates struggle to find work.

Now, statistics show, that by going to college you improve your employability. A survey by the Pew Research Center shows that four-year college graduates earn more than those who don’t have a college degree. That’s an analysis of the USA labor force.

Let’s come closer to home. The Government tries to subsidize the cost of higher education by paying part of the cost of higher education, for those in public universities. However, most students still need to take loans to see them through college. It raises the question why is college worth it, as we analyze its (ROI) Return on Investment.


The best part of every man’s education is that which he gives to himself. — Sir Walter Scott


The Question of Unemployment in Kenya

There are two ways in which unemployment rates can be defined:
• National Definition
ILO harmonized definition, or OECD harmonized definition: number of unemployed persons as a percentage of the total labor force (employed and unemployed)

It could be the reason why there are conflicting statistics on the actual unemployment rates in Kenya. Some put it at 11% while the United Nations; Human Development Index (HDI) 2017 report, places it at 39.1%. The World Bank data as by March 2017, puts unemployment rate of Kenyan youths at 22.1%. That reflects the youth between ages of 15 to 24 years, which encompasses college graduates too.

Reasons for High Unemployment among the Youth

  • One of the primary reasons is that the rate of supply of potential employees in the formal sector is higher than the creation of jobs in the industry. It narrows down the number of formal opportunities that are available for entry-level workers, who are fresh from college.
  • It could also be due to mismatch of the acquired skills and the needs of the industry. Have you ever wondered why some firms seem to employ mainly from specific universities? It brings to question the quality of education that we receive in our universities.
  • Another probable reason is limited career guidance. I remember when filling out college and course options before sitting KCSE, the only advice was, select the course of your choice and possibly one that has the highest cumulative points, first, as you progress downwards. Many of us made our decisions based on the aggregate scores of a particular class with little or no idea on what we would like to pursue.

Unfortunately, at the university, there was no one to guide you if you wanted a change of major or the opportunity to sample different classes before selecting a particular career path.

What Can Be Done About It?
We already have a challenge that has been aired over and over again, or not, depending on how you see it. For those still “tarmacking,” we need to do more about it, and soon; before it, all, blows out of proportion. Ask me of the people who’ve graduated and are still looking for employment opportunities, and I can come up with at least ten, in seconds.

I’m going to be the devil’s advocate on this matter, and I can bet that many will come forward in objurgation. Not to worry, the time is now to question, the value of a college education. Students are taking HELB loans if you are not fortunate to bag a scholarship, investing their time and energy in studies, and left to the wolves once they graduate.

You shouldn’t forget that HELB will come knocking at your door, one year after graduation. Is college worth it? Yes, and No, it depends on your experience after graduation. How then, do we change this?

1. Improving the Quality of Education
It’s not a new thing that the name of the school on your certificate plays a significant role in your chances of employment. Some firms, majorly hire from particular institutions of higher learning. It could be that these institutions produce candidates who are better equipped to meet the needs of the job market.

What happens to those who don’t? They get passed over from one interview to the next, each year. We could try to use the VALUE system suggested by the AAC&U (Association of American Colleges and Universities). It measures the skills that a student needs to meet the requirements of the ever-growing complexity of the economy.

It is useful to both the student and the institution alike. A student can measure the progress they are making in their skills. On the other hand, professors will know where to make changes in their class. It will explain the abilities a graduate of a particular school, has.

Thus, giving you a better understanding of where you stand in regards to readiness for the labor market. Let’s not forget that having the “right” connections also matters.

2. Changing how we structure our education curriculum
In the mind of many students, we go to school to have a better future. And that future is mainly employment. It stifles those who think outside the box and leaves the students unprepared for the instance where they need to create their jobs.

So, many still stay back home, applying, waiting, hoping, praying, fasting, etc., for a miracle to happen but the reality is we won’t all get employed. And more so, not at the same time. It doesn’t mean that our future depends on becoming employees.

What if we were equipped with the skills to create jobs? Wouldn’t that reduce the unemployment rates? It will also change the mentality that we need to be employees to have a bright future. We can create jobs and hire those of us who are struggling, and together we build the Kenya we want.

3. Encourage Exploration of Talent
Talent pays, look at our athletes. We millennials are battling with finding our sense of purpose. It could be in your God-given talent. Rarely, especially in our times, did you see parents or teachers encourage children to nurture their gifts if it is in a field that doesn’t require you to work in an office.

You can make a living writing, singing, dancing, or in whatever you are good at. For those of who feel let down by the curriculum, it’s never too late to start over. Don’t be thewless; pursue your passions, you never know the doors it will open for you.

If a child loves to sing, let them sing and study at the same time. If upon graduation they don’t get employed, their singing could take them to another level. And they also have the option to use their voice as a way to educate others. Who knows?


It is high time we ensure that students understand that going to school is an opportunity to learn, not just from the books but the world around you. If the books don’t work for you, then, there sure is another way to keep learning.

Many go back for Masters, and more in the hope that it will better their chances, only to come back and hold placards on the streets, seeking employment. I bet in their minds is the question, what is the value of a college education?

If you have been able to beat the system and are lucky to have completed college, don’t let your achievements and what you could achieve, be watered down by recruiters who turned you down. You can still get to where you want, all you have to do is try, fail, and try again until you get it right.


There are two parts of a college education–the part you get in the schoolroom from the professors and the part outside of it from the boys. That’s the really important part. For the first can only make you a scholar, while the second can make you a man. — Old Gorgon Graham

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