Great Debate: Education vs. experience

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I get asked this question a lot as a college instructor:

Does having a college degree really matter?

You may think since 1) I teach at a community college and 2) I have both bachelor’s and master’s degrees that I would immediately answer, “Of course! Duh!”

But actually, the answer isn’t that simple.

Education vs. experience is an age-old debate, one that has no right or wrong answer.

On the one hand, having a college degree can’t hurt. Many jobs — think accountants and chemical engineers — require the kind of training you get in college. And a degree of any kind usually equates to higher pay and more mobility within a company. Attending college can mean, to some recruiters and employers, that you are able to learn complex subject matter, analyze problems and devise solutions, demonstrate commitment to learning and to the career, and maybe allude that you can work collaboratively or in group settings.

Then again, I know a few college graduates who aren’t capable of any of the above.

Experience, on the other hand, shows something else: tenacity, perseverance, work ethic, grit. It’s the “walk,” the “pavement,” the “proof in the pudding,” so to speak. I’d rather hire someone who’s proven to be a published writer — meaning, she knows how to meet deadlines, she can work with editors, she can actually write — than someone with just a bachelor’s degree in English from a prestigious university. That doesn’t mean anything, really, to me.

So what’s your take on the debate: Is education more important than experience? Or do you need to prove yourself in the workplace in order to get ahead?