Check in with a high school senior early in the school year, and you’ll find many of them doing two things: fretting about college decisions, and worrying over scholarship applications. Many students receive heavy encouragement to apply for as many scholarships as possible — why is that? The reality is that rising tuition and material costs associated with college continue to increase the financial hurdles facing students. The conventional wisdom, though, is that a college degree is worth the effort and the cash. Is that true? Do the end results justify the current price tags, or is the cost of college too high when compared with its potential benefits? A careful look at the facts shows that circumstances profoundly influence the answer.
What are the real costs of a college education?
To establish a foundation for our analysis, let’s look at some hard figures first. Before we can examine whether college costs are too high, we should know what kind of expenses students today face. Fees can vary based on the type of school one attends; a community college, for example, will naturally cost much less than a private four-year college. What are some of the numbers, though? On average, public (that is, state-run) universities charge residents of their state about $10,000-$11,000 in tuition. For out of state students, that number expands to above $20,000.
The numbers get even larger when considering private colleges, like the prestigious Ivy League universities. The average here clocks in around $32,000 for a year of education. Over four years, that’s a hugely substantial chunk of money. Quick repayment all but demands an excellent job right out of school. It’s also important to remember these figures only cover tuition and fees from the University — the actual cost of college is much higher. Factor in housing, an entire semester’s worth of food, and highly-priced textbooks, and the cost of each year of higher education balloons substantially.
Are Education costs unreasonably high for college students?
Even with high tuition costs, the right degree in the correct field can still equal a lucrative job. In the right scenario, one might even be able to pay down their debt relatively quickly. In these cases, the individuals in question may feel they received an excellent bargain. For someone pursuing a degree in a field like communications or history, though, that high-paying job is often elusive. Instead of being able to begin repaying loans right away, many other expenses take precedence.
When determining whether the costs related to higher education are unreasonably high, this is an important factor to consider. What you study, and the school’s level of prestige, can ultimately influence the value of your education as a whole. While it may seem unfair that one school could make your degree more valuable than another, it’s true. It has a definite effect on the earnings potential for many graduates.
The tricky role student loans play in cost analysis
Speaking of loans, let’s look more closely at them next. How one pays for college factors into determining whether it costs too much as well. An individual who pays their way through community college and
emerges with little to no debt is in a very advantageous position. Their degree begins earning them money as soon as they land a job. As we’ve seen, for a student attending a more prestigious university (for perhaps a more prestigious program), the tuition alone could be huge. Many students rely on loans, both public and private, to finance these educational efforts.
Loans aren’t static, though; after graduation, they quickly begin to accrue interest. Even armed with an advanced degree, there is often some difficulty finding a job in the modern economy. Landing a position at an ideal salary is rarely a given today. In the wrong set of circumstances, student loan debt can become a burden for a lifetime. In fact, by 2015, nearly three million Americans over the age of 60 were still carrying student loan debt. If a lifetime of work cannot pay off debt earned in college by the age of retirement, it should be clear that in some cases, college does indeed cost too much.
University alternatives challenge college’s worth & affordability
The same could be said when considering the fact that a traditional college education is not the only way forward for individuals. A trade school, where one learns job-specific skills for a potentially lifelong career, is an excellent option as well. In fact, it tends to cost overwhelmingly less than college. A completed trade school degree costs on average about $33,000 — just $1,000 more than a single year at an upper-crust university. One walks away from trade school with a host of marketable skills, too, and often a direct pipeline into your chosen industry. This level of job security is not something you can always rely on with a college degree. For some, this path could represent much better value when compared to soaring tuition numbers.
Answering the question “does college cost too much?” isn’t easy and the answer can depend on many interrelated factors. In some cases, the answer might be “no.” Just one example is the community college student, who excels in their program without carrying a large amount of debt and lands a good-paying job soon after graduation. In many other cases, though, rising tuition costs, the growing burden of student loans, and a tight job market can make college a poor investment. In these cases, yes: college costs far too much for the value of the end result.
Considering the staggering $1 trillion in loan debt US students carry, it’s important to remember that there is no guidebook to life that demands college attendance. There are other choices, like the aforementioned trade schools and apprenticeships, which offer robust career paths of a different kind. Ultimately, it’s a long-term financial decision everyone should consider with care.