College Education: Is the Price Really Right?

PRO by David Wang

There’s no doubt that, in recent years, the financial cost of simply attending a higher-education institution in the United States has gone up drastically. Every year, a growing percentage of graduating classes are faced with the dilemma of wanting to go to college but being swamped with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt. The College Board itself says that from the turn of the century, the average tuition fees for private 4-year colleges have increased by 119.9%, and tuition for public 4-year colleges has increased by 147.2% (even after accounting for inflation).

Sharply increasing student loans caused by increased tuition changes  the way people think about college—that it’s an old relic of the past that offers no practical use in the real world post-graduation. “Ugh,” some might say with a dismissive wave of their hand. “Why should I be swamped in debt to learn about organic chemistry or psychology or art history if my dream career is in finance?”

Former president Barack Obama remarked that college “is an economic imperative that every family in America has to be able to afford.” The College Payoff, a new report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, found that graduates who have a bachelor’s degree earn $2.8 million more throughout their lifetime than those who don’t have any degree beyond a high-school diploma. Another study from the Pew Research Center found that the median annual income disparity between high-school graduates who did not attend college and college graduates is about $17,500 per year.

Another incentive for going to college is the growing number of jobs that require post-secondary education. In the 1970’s, only 28% of jobs required a post-high school degree, but economic and job projections by Georgetown University indicated that approximately 63% of jobs will impose the same standard on applicants in 2018. Closer observations into the qualities of life when comparing college or high-school diploma holding students have found that colleges can impact one’s social mobility and job retention. Having a college education makes them qualified for a larger variety of jobs, and as a result of this flexibility, more people are likely to choose a job they are more passionate about. Not surprisingly, college graduates show greater satisfaction with their jobs. College graduates are also more likely to retain their jobs—according to US Census Bureau, the unemployment rate for high-school-only grads was 5.3% in 2017, while the unemployment rate for college grads was 2.5%.

Individuals with college education have more opportunities to improve their families’ social mobility. Education plays a huge impact on class, earnings, and social status. Recent research done by Pew Charitable Trusts found that those with a bachelor’s degree are less likely to stay in the lower income tiers; in addition, college graduates are three times as likely to move into the upper 30% of the income ladder.

While there is financial pressure attached to attending college, the reality is that a college degree still provides substantial advantages to graduates—whether through social mobility, job opportunities, or overall salary. The great majority of those who graduated from colleges feel that it was worth it, despite opinions that college is overpriced for its conceivable worth. There’s a reason that college is seen as the next logical step after high school for one’s academic career: the tangible benefits that college has to offer will continue to outweigh the supposed “crippling debt” that worries prospective college applicants.

CON by Elana Amir

When choosing which university to attend, the most important factor to consider is the tuition. This number can be unreasonably high: reaching up to $80,000 a year for a grand total of $320,000 after four years. This number is huge.  Before making such a large investment, it is important to gather a sufficient amount of information to decide whether attending a university with a high price tag is worth it.

Most high-school students do not know for sure what they want to study. Though some believe that college is the time to find out what you want to pursue, it is not wise to explore in a college with a high tuition. One option is for students to explore their academic interests at a less expensive university and then transfer. Even in colleges with more open curriculums, it can be stressful to figure out what you want to major in. Because of the added stress of paying tuition and being in debt, it is not a good practice to pay so much for classes that may not contribute to degree credits. For students who do know what they want to study, it is important to figure out whether their career plans require attending graduate school.

Graduate education is far more important than undergraduate education. Many high paying jobs now require a graduate degree, so many people continue on to complete four more years of schooling. Graduate schools often have even higher tuitions. Going to a more affordable university to receive a bachelor’s degree first and then somewhere more expensive afterwards is the best option because it is worth the investment once you know your career path. It is also harder to pay off loans with less education. Jobs that require graduate education have higher salaries, so it becomes easier to pay off college debt.

There is no way to definitively determine if the cost of college is justified. College is meant to not only shape you into a well-rounded and educated person, but also prepare you for a job. It is definitely difficult to obtain a well-paying job without a college education, but that doesn’t mean students have to attend expensive universities. There are many graduates from expensive universities with high-paying jobs, but graduates from other universities with smaller tuitions may have comparable or even higher salaries.

My mom, who graduated from Pace, works with a man who went to Harvard. My mom started at a lower position than him; however, she is now at a much higher position while he is still an individual contributor without leadership responsibilities or anyone reporting to him. Though he has an Ivy League education, he hasn’t progressed much in his career and has a low salary. He paid significantly more for his degree, but has a smaller return on investment. This goes to show that your work ethic, among other things, is far more important than which university you attended.

The cost of college is high and rising, but the return on investment is declining. According to The Atlantic, associate’s degrees from for-profit universities lead to smaller salary bumps than associate’s degrees from community colleges. A college degree is necessary, but not at such a high cost. Paying for an open education you can get at almost any university, regardless of the tuition, is not cost efficient. Federal aid programs and merit scholarships can cover some of the cost, but many students struggle taking loans when financial aid is not fully met. This is a huge financial decision, so it important to note both sides of the argument, prioritize what is best for you and your family, and decide for yourself if the high cost of college is justified. There are other factors that better indicate if you will succeed in the professional world, so what is the reason that college costs so much?