Is College Worth the Cost?

Posted by Judy Anne Cavey on Oct 20, 2011 in , , | No Comments

With college costs skyrocketing, many students (and their parents) are asking whether it’s worth the cost.

For most people, it appears college is a good choice. I’ve seen evidence showing earnings of college grads far out pace those with only a high school diploma. Those with advanced degrees usually make more than all of the above. Projections show there will be a demand for educated workers. However, the game changer was the recession, leaving many grads out in the cold and those still in school wondering what to do upon graduation.

Is college still the answer to a bright future as it once was?

Mega Dollars

Increases in tuition have made it difficult for the average, middle-class American family to afford a decent education for an offspring. The University of California Regents imposed a highly protested 32% tuition hike in 2009 and are imposing another 8% increase due this fall–a 40% increase within a two year period. While these increases are astronomical, other colleges and universities have imposed their own substantial hikes.

With the economic situation still gloomy, parents once ready to send students off to college are having second thoughts and feeling guilty. Those parents who have lost jobs face an even more difficult road ahead if they’ve tapped into equity in their home, or retirement funds, just to put food on the table. These parents simply cannot afford to take the financial risk of paying for tuition and other college expenses.

But are high priced colleges the best avenue?

Winds of Change

In Brian Kelly’s article, “Is College Still Worth It?”, (U.S. News & World Report) he states, “Some analysts are predicting that higher ed is the next economic bubble, headed for a crash.” He claims that if colleges were a business, they would most likely be the victims of a hostile take over, “complete with cost cutting and painful reorganization.” This may sound good to anyone wishing for a ray of hope when you figure the average private college is around $50,000 and public tuition is roughly $20,000.

Kelly wisely cautions anyone wanting to go to college know exactly what they are getting into financially. Several studies show tuition has far outpaced the cost of living. If you haven’t asked where all of the money for tuition is going yet, that should be at the top of your list. Kelly explains the money hasn’t been spent on classroom teaching (as an educator I can attest to that). What tops the list? Administrative staffing and lavish campus facilities. Now you might be asking if that spending is necessary for a better education. It isn’t. In fact, states faced with budget cuts slashed faculty, resulting in overcrowding in classes. More often than not, classes are taught by adjunct faculty or graduate assistants–who historically earn low pay and are overburdened.

Where to Next?

I’ve always been a proponent of sending students to a two-year college first, then on to a four-year program. Why? It’s simple, at least 40% of students drop out, while others complain the transition from high school to college extremely stressful, and another 40% arrive needing remedial education. Students pay less for tuition at a two-year college, can live at home saving money on room and board, have minor transitional stress, and “test the college waters”. This way, parents and students feel less of a financial and emotional burden in the long run.

Andrew Hacker, teacher of political science at Queens College and coauthor of Higher Education? states, “A $200,000 degree isn’t worth it if a generation commences its adult life with huge debt.” In his recent article, Smart Money Looks Elsewhere (U.S. News & World Report), he breaks down where all that tuition money goes. From the high cost of maintaining sports programs to paying top dollar for star faculty who are often on leaves–tuition monies are eaten up by non-essentials. But good deals for your money can be found, Hacker claims, you just have to look.

But, if you have your heart set on a four-year college, you’ll need to do your research. The most scholarship money can be found at the highest ranked colleges. Low to no tuition is offered to qualified and needy students. However, some colleges are running out of scholarship money.

Students in California, being shut out of colleges due to overcrowding, have opted to go out of state to attend community college. In fact, one of my nephews had to do just that. Students were finding what should have taken two years, was actually taking much longer, since they couldn’t get into classes they needed. Low cost institutions and public community colleges saw an increase of 16% in enrollment. By 2011, it is projected to continue to rise.

Other students are opting for online colleges to bypass the local college problems. But, these online degrees come with their own set of issues. I’ve written several “Quick Tips” and a blog or two regarding caution when choosing an online college, read those for more information on this subject. Online degrees are most useful to people who didn’t finish college but are employed. Certain employers will pick up the bill, making this a great option for some. However, there are those who frown upon online degrees. Schools with shady practices and unconventional staffing prompt many of these concerns. Again, do your research.

Final Thoughts

Good luck, I say with sincere hope students and parents find what they are looking for in a college education. Seek out smaller class sizes, less dollars being spent on sports and ridiculous salaries for administration and star staff. Focus on what you want your final outcome to be–a solid education–which prepares you for your workplace future. Basically, lay wise plans for your hard earned dollars.


If you found this blog interesting or helpful, re-tweets and sharing are appreciated!