For many years, there has been a certain expectation among those graduating from high school. Whether it’s put on student by their parents, teachers, or themselves, the expectation is that once you leave high school that you will continue on to college, preferably a four year college and the eventual Bachelor’s degree.
In more recent years though, that nearly automatic decision to continue on in education has come under increasing scrutiny due to the cost of a college education. Others believe they don’t need a college degree for their future career. To that point, 57% of American workers reported that they do not need a college degree to do their jobs.
Since 1982, the cost of a college degree has increased a staggering 740%, while earnings of college graduates have increased just 145%. More and more families are falling into the “financial aid gap”, finding themselves too wealthy to get much, if any financial aid, but without the resources to finance a college education.
This increase in costs has led directly to an unprecedented level of student loan debt for college graduates as they and their families try to finance an increasingly expensive education. A recent survey of college graduates shows the average student loan debt to be $35,200. Student loans are relatively inexpensive in terms of interest costs, but they are one of the most difficult debts to be relieved of. Most cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, and many private loans require a creditworthy co-signer who can be left on the hook for the loans if they student fails to make the payments.
Due to the cost and hazards of taking on student loans, it’s important to weigh the monthly payments that will result from borrowing against the income the graduate can reasonably expect to make. For example, taking on significant debt to attend an expensive private college in order to work in a rewarding though relatively low paying profession, like social work or the fine arts may not be the best use of resources.
Not all the news is bad when it comes to higher education though. Those with a Bachelor’s degree make on average $1.1 million more than those with only a high school diploma, while those with a graduate or master’s degree make $1.4 million more. Those with a college degree experienced an unemployment rate during the height of the last recession that was roughly half than those with a high school diploma, and routinely report they are more satisfied in their work than those without advanced education. The benefits continue into retirement, where those with a college degree typically earn 3 to 4 times more in retirement than those without a college degree.
With pros and cons on both sides of the debate, the key is to shop around and know what you’re trying to get out of your education. Private schools generally have smaller class sizes and more manageable campuses, but the cost of tuition is on average three times as much as a public school. Many less expensive public schools have large campuses and larger student bodies, making it easier for a student to feel lost among their peers.
When a student it working to find the right college for them, it’s important to take a hard look at the economics of the decision in addition to the academic reputation of the school and how well the student feels they would fit in socially. Once that balance is struck, they can undertake what for most is the most exciting and eye-opening time of their lives.