With recent drops in college enrollment, degrees getting more and more expensive, and with Mark Zuckerberg and other young entrepreneurs dropping out of college and getting rich before their 30th birthdays, it makes one wonder if degrees are truly necessary anymore. The answer is yes, but it depends on the student, their goals and what they plan to study. College is becoming less and less a place to kick back and spend a few years "figuring things out." You need to go into an institution with a game plan and a goal of minimal student loans.

It's easy to get wrapped up in the stories of college dropouts who made millions (or billions), but they're the exception and there are many more young adults borrowing against their future. Journalist Robert Zimmer with The Atlantic says, "An increasingly familiar and seductive story has been circulating about young people who, drawing inspiration from billionaire entrepreneurs and computer giants, consider dropping out of college a fast track to business success." However, this is not doing college students any good. Here's why college degrees still matter.

They're the High School Diplomas of Our Time

A few decades ago, having a high school diploma meant you at least had the education, background and ambition to complete the "bare minimum" of educational expectations. My own mother began working for Pacific Bell not long after high school and then embarked on a 30-year career, without ever having attended college. This type of thing just isn't done now.

Today, the bachelor's degree is the high school diploma of years past. Ideally, students are pursuing advanced degrees as a form of expanding their learning, networking and "proving" they have dedication. Today's generation is notorious for job hopping, which has long been considered a dangerous habit, whether you want to climb the corporate ladder or start your own business.

Having a bachelor's degree, albeit an expensive one, shows employers, investors or potential partners that you're mature enough to stick with something for at least four years, and could be headed somewhere positive. Put yourself in the shoes of an employer or investor: Would you rather hire a 21-year-old with a bachelor's degree or a 21-year-old with just a high school diploma and a mediocre work history? Without a bachelor's degree, you're essentially putting yourself at the rear of the pack.

Focusing on Limiting Your Student Loan Burden

Are college degrees expensive? Of course. Is every single person cut out for a college degree? Of course not. It's quite possible to make a lot more money and be much happier with vocational training or a more unorthodox "classroom." However, instead of focusing on how un-valuable a degree is, it's time to start prioritizing going student-loan free instead of ditching college all together. Michael Price, author of "What Next? The Millennial's Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the Real World," says, "Aided by the misguided counsel of parents, they went back to school to obtain more degrees, and subsequently more debt, and many of them still remain jobless. This epidemic has to end."

Students should be realistic about what type of income they can secure with a degree, the risk-benefit when it comes to student loans, and meet with a financial advisor to make savvy decisions. Otherwise, a college degree certainly can be useless. It's all about how it's approached and making smart decisions from Freshman year onward.

Published on: Feb 20, 2015