A great emphasis has been placed on the importance of a higher education degree over the last several decades, with the prevailing notion that a good paying job and solid career track are within one’s reach when clutching a college diploma. This long-accepted wisdom has spurred countless high school grads to move out of their homes and into dorms to get the all-important college experience, which they have been told leads to better career options and a better life. For many, this has worked out just as planned. For others, especially in light of the recent economic downturn and stagnating wages, this has been a pipe dream made uncomfortably real by the decades of student loans with which they have been saddled. Is a higher degree really worth it anymore?
The average college graduate in 2010 left school owing approximately $25,250 in student loans, the highest amount ever seen in this country, according to U.S. News and World Report. Although college degrees have always been viewed as a way to guard against the specter of unemployment, recent graduates are finding that their value has tarnished somewhat.
Compared with just two decades ago, the cost of attending college has risen three to four times, leaving many families no option but to go into some serious debt so their kids can join the masses scrambling for a job after graduation. A college education is valuable, but in a country where more students are graduating with a college degree than ever, just having a degree is no longer enough.
The rate of cumulative student debt in this country has actually surpassed that of debt stemming from credit cards. That being said, statistics show that those with a college degree do have an easier time finding and securing a job than those who choose to stop their education at high school. However, it’s taking longer and longer for those kids to pay back what they borrowed, bringing up the question again and again: is college really worth it in the end?
It really comes down to the student and the degree. As The Economist points out, college graduates between the ages of 25 and 32 who work full-time earn about $17,500 more per year than their peers with just a high school diploma. However, some degrees are “worth” more than others. Take a business graduate working on Wall Street, making six figures a year. Is her degree worth it? Certainly, as she’ll have no problem paying off the debt she incurred now that she’s landed a lucrative job. Now take an art history major who lands a job as a teacher in a secondary school, making just $40,000 a year. Is his degree worth the money he’s making? Maybe not, given the time it will take him to pay off his student loans. Sometimes, those who learn a trade and go to work right out of high school can be better off in the job force and even make more money without having to worry about all those loans.
Many experts still say going to college is always a better bet than not, pointing to a higher ROI and a more sound investment. CNN Money says that the rate of return for a four-year bachelor’s degree is between 14 and 15 percent, and has been since 2000. This, say experts from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, goes well beyond the parameters for a good investment. Coupled with the positive economic outlook and that job openings are at their highest since 2001, it will be interesting to see who are the biggest beneficiaries: those with college degrees, or those without.