Is College Really Worth It?

When I graduated from college in 2007, I landed my first job as a paralegal.  I earned $23,000 a year.  Like many college students today, I moved back home with my mom because I simply could not afford to pay rent, bills, and student loan debt.   

We are in the midst of the most debilitating economic downturn in my lifetime.  Many college graduates enter the workforce simply hoping to get a job – any job – and have placed their “dream job” notions temporarily aside.  Others continue climbing the post-secondary ladder, and enter graduate programs to: A) wait for better employment prospects; B) enhance their job potential; and C) earn more money.  However, graduate school does not even guarantee a job –much less a better paying one in today’s economic climate.  For example, in 2011 three national law schools were sued by their graduates.  These students claimed this generation had been given a false sense of economic opportunity and; instead are left with massive financial debt.  Similar frustrations are heard at every level of higher education.  Whether graduate school leads you to more lucrative employment you are still obligated to repay student loans. 

In a speech to University of Michigan students in January, President Obama discussed his initiative to ensure that college is more affordable. 

Parts of President Obama’s plan include:

  • Larger Grants
  • Investments in Community Colleges
  • Increased Support for Minority Serving Institutions
  • Expanded Income-Based Repayment Plans

According to the President, 75% of Americans believe college is too expensive.  Rising tuition has led to a pervading notion that a college degree may no longer be worth the cost.  Yet, as the President noted, “college isn’t just one of the best investments you can make in your future…It is the best investment America can make in our future.”  

Here are some recommendations on what to consider as you make your educational investment:

Get the most “bang for your buck”

Most investors choose stocks based on growth potential.  Do the same with yourself and your college experience.  Involve yourself in student organizations and activities that make YOU more marketable.  Any student can major in English, but not all English students write for the school newspaper.  If you are a political science major who ultimately wants to be a lawyer, join your school’s legal fraternity or club.  Create a college roadmap.  If I do A, will this help me get to B? 

Become a stockbroker over your finances

Make good financial choices, such as applying for scholarships and grants.  This is free money!  If you are left-handed, a female over 5’10”, or play marbles, there is a scholarship for you.  College financial aid offices also may know about local grants.  All you have to do is apply – because many students simply do not.

Diversify your “friendship portfolio”

College affords us to be around different kinds of smart people.  Embrace this experience and cast a wide net.  There is nothing wrong with befriending your teammates as you all collectively pursue the regional championship.  However, make an effort to meet at least one new person each day.   Twenty years from now, your History classmate could work in the Human Resources department and your resume might come across his desk.  Most importantly, this is your first taste of “networking,” an invaluable skill in the working world. 

Create viable stock options: sell off failing “assets” and stock up on promising ones

Think futuristically…even in the present.  Continually evaluate your life choices. 

Examples of failing assets may include:

  • Ineffective study skills
  • Bad personal habits
  • Being around those who are barriers to you achieving your goals

Examples of good assets may include:

  • Taking on leadership roles
  • Good time management
  • Excelling in your coursework

College is about academics, but good grades do not make a well-rounded student.  College is also about personal growth and development.  Use this time to better yourself.

So, is college really worth it? 

Of course it is.  However, understanding college is an investment is key.  On average, the lifetime income of families headed by individuals with a bachelor's degree will be about $1.6 million more than the incomes of families headed by those with a high-school diploma.  Your first job may not offer a $100,000 starting salary, but consider the position you might be in without your education.  With a degree, you are more marketable overall.  You can offer a potential employer a diverse array of experiences that no one else can encapsulate.  College provides much more than an extra bill – it sets you up for a lifetime of economic and personal potential.

For more information about President Obama’s plan, visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/education/higher-education.