Business / Industries

Dad could be wrong about benefit of college

By BAI PING (China Daily) Updated: 2015-05-20 07:47

Two years ago, a Chinese father in central Sichuan province touched national nerves when he openly challenged the value of higher learning by refusing to send his daughter to college.

In his cost-benefit analysis of a college education, the farmer-turned-businessman reckoned his daughter's four years of tuition, room and board would set him back at least 80,000 yuan ($12,900). Meanwhile, the wages forgone due to attending college could also amount to another 80,000 yuan or more if his daughter started work after high school.

On benefits, he argued she might not be able to find a job after college and it would take years for her to recoup the investment. Perhaps it would be wiser to use the money to make a payment on a house or start a small business. "College isn't worth it," the bitter man told the local news media. "A garbage collector is making more than a college graduate."

Sadly, some employment numbers also appear to corroborate his line of thinking. Mycos, a college education consulting company, found that 7.9 percent of about 7 million college graduates in 2013 didn't have a job in the first six months after graduation. Those who found work earned a monthly income of 3,250 yuan on average, considerably lower than the national income of 4,290 yuan.

However, while many on the Chinese Web cheered the man on to seek "alternative ways of learning" for his girl, he could be wrong about the returns of a college education, because he has failed to take several key pieces into account, like the appreciation of a degree over time.

According to various survey results by top Chinese recruitment sites, despite a relatively low start, graduates from top 10 Chinese universities generally earn a monthly salary of more than 10,000 yuan five years after they leave college.

On average, the Mycos study showed, a new college graduate in 2013 earned 6.6 percent more than his or her peer in 2012 and 17.5 percent than in 2011. While employment prospects remain grim, salaries could grow faster in the future due to higher income expectations as prices rise and more students come from well-off families.

This year, starting salaries for college graduates are expected to be 10 percent or more than last year. While about half of seniors are still waiting for a firm offer, 40 percent of them already expect their first salary to be from 8,000 to 10,000 yuan.

There are also intangible returns that may not carry a specific price tag, but are rewarding enough to justify investing in a college education.

Although a college degree doesn't guarantee a job, without it, one can only expect to work in low-pay menial jobs. The government and large companies usually employ only degree holders. Successful candidates can count on a stable and respectable career with decent welfare and benefits that can include a pension. They can also receive subsidized housing and a hukou, or household registration, in big cities that is considered to be the ultimate prize for college graduates from small towns or rural areas.

For many young people from humble family backgrounds, a college education remains their only ticket to success, and parents will make whatever financial sacrifice they can to put their children on the path of upward social mobility.

The Sichuan father believed college was a bad investment and he wouldn't care about his "face" as long as he had money in his pocket. Luckily for Chinese college education, most parents would disagree.

And his daughter who is in college with financial help from a local restaurateur will eventually prove that Daddy was wrong.

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