by Kevin Dickinson: Is college worth it? This question may seem a no-brainer, but there are many reasons why it is worthy of serious deliberation.
Here are three.
- A bachelor’s degree is widely considered a golden ticket to social mobility, yet ballooning tuition costs place it out of reach for many.
- Prescribing college as the default path simply won’t work for many people.
- Is college worth it? There are three major factors for you to consider.
Is college worth it? For many, the answer is a no-brainer: Of course it is!
The college degree has become the totem of the middle class and a prerequisite for social mobility. To not earn one, the common knowledge goes, is to throw your life away. Even asking the question aloud is enough to send starchy parents and career coaches into fits of worry.
But as with any prescription, treating college as a universal cure-all has its dangers. College isn’t for everyone, and discovering that it isn’t for you can be an expensive and time-consuming lesson. Thirty-six million Americans have some college education but no degree, and those that borrowed money to attend, as many do, must still pay back their loans. Universities do not come with a satisfaction guarantee, let alone a money-back one. In fact, the opposite is true.
That makes college a sort of gamble — especially for low-income students who lack the familial safety net of their upper-class peers. Given that a quarter of low-income students leave by the end of their second year, it’s also not a bet one wants to make haphazardly.So, it’s not contrarian to wonder if college is worth it for you. Answering that question can be a difficult task, one that requires you to carefully consider your present situation and future goals.
To help you start that discussion — either for yourself or with your parents or a loved one — here are three reasons why college is absolutely worth it: the money, the investment, and the education. And, incidentally, those are the same three reasons you may want to avoid college.
College is (not) worth it for the money
Let’s start with the stressor supreme of college life: the price tag. Rising tuition costs have been outpacing the median income for decades. The reasons for this are numerous but include state funding cuts, a massive increase in demand, the bankrolling of new student services, and bloating administrative compensation. The outcome is that today’s students are making up the difference. And they are doing so by taking on debt.
Outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. stands at $1.7 trillion spread across 43.4 million borrowers. Those large numbers have generated frightening headlines in the vein of 30-somethings shouldering six-figure debt, predatory loans targeting vulnerable families, and the endless cycle of fraud and abuse charitably called the for-profit college sector.
Now, it’s worth taking a breather here and remembering that headline writers feast on the most sensational (and therefore clickable) samples of reality. If you place those large numbers into their much larger context, the crisis is a little more subdued.
Yes, some graduates will wrestle with exorbitant loans throughout their lives, but the mean student debt across all borrowers comes to about $39,000. Many graduates cover a bill of less than $20,000, and states such as California, Washington, and Utah maintain low student debt averages. That makes the cost of a bachelor’s degree comparable to — if not less than — a new car on average. And while that $1.7 trillion figure is eye-catching, it’s but a pothole compared to America’s debt chasm: mortgages, which account for a stupefying $15 trillion of outstanding debt.
Even so, you’re probably worried about college debt for the same reason you don’t have a shiny new WRX GT parked outside. The monthly payments are a financial strain. The average monthly student loan payment sits at several hundred dollars, and meeting that means sacrificing more than the occasional night out. For college graduates who haven’t established themselves in the labor market, it can be the difference between making ends meet or not.
Yes, there’s a scrum of payment options, each sporting an obliging name such as deferred payments and income-driven repayment plans. But it can take years to cement oneself in a quality position in the best of job markets. All the while, if you aren’t paying down those loans fast enough, they may be ballooning with interest.
As the Department of Education concluded in a recent fact sheet: “Today, college remains the greatest driver of socioeconomic mobility in America, but if we don’t do more to keep it within reach for middle-class families and those striving to get into the middle class, it could have the opposite effect.”