The Decision: Is college worth it?

Benjamin Levine
Aug 8, 2011 at 9:02 AM

During the summer I work as a camp counselor, specifically with K-1st graders.  As I was meeting the family of one my young campers, the dad asked me where I attended college.  I told him Drake University and he then looked at his children and said, "See, we're always thinking about college.  It's so important."  I'm sure he will reiterate that sentiment throughout their youth.  But I wanted to lean over and tell them, "Eh...not really."

Is it worth the debt?

Understandably so, this father was trying to improve his daughters' lives.  It was undoubtedly a genuine effort on his part and I don't blame him whatsoever.  For many parents, college is key.  When they were young a degree actually meant something because not everyone could go to college.  But college is not what it used to be.  Today, almost anybody can attend because of the massive amount of student loans that are nearly guaranteed (Sound familiar?  Housing bubble, anyone?).  Many would say this is a positive thing.  However, those loans need to be paid back eventually and the problem is that there is a high percentage of them that won't be.  In addition, we now treat college as synonymous with learning.  That isn't the case, either.  Simply because you have a degree doesn't mean you are suddenly more intelligent.

So, financially college should be looking rather unattractive for many students.  Recently, Moody's released an analysis of student borrowing and said this of the situation in American education:

Unless students limit their debt burdens, choose fields of study that are in demand, and successfully complete their degrees on time, they will find themselves in worse financial positions and unable to earn the projected income that justified taking out their loans in the first place. [emphasis added]

Basically, students should make a cost-benefit analysis on college.  Does it make sense to take a loan out that will leave an unsurmountable debt once you are done?  If that isn't the case -- if you can survive college without a massive amount of debt, that is -- then it probably is worth it (but, still, not always).  However, with societal pressures to attend college mixed with countless options for loans -- including "help" from the government -- people are going to college that won't be able to pay off their debt.  We're seeing a bubble form in higher education and it is a serious problem.  But it also means parents might not want to beat the idea of attending college into their childrens' heads.  It simply is not what it used to be.

It is curious to think about if college is worth it or not.  One statistic that I find alarming as a soon to be high school graduate is according to the IES, the average income of male bachelor’s degree recipients in 1995 was $49,300 while in 2009 it had only increased to $51,000.  Then on top of that, college prices have increased alarmingly almost 10% in the last 10 years.  With college prices going higher and the pay off going lower, it is a tough question weather the pay off with my greater than the cost.

 

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