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College Tuition Costs: Is Your Degree Worth It?

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Facts and figures regarding the earning potential of college graduates have been floating around for years, and the numbers vary considerably depending on their source. In recent years, the College Board claimed that the difference in lifetime earnings of a college graduate versus a high school graduate was approximately $800,000 while other estimates have been well over a million dollars in lifetime earning difference.

These figures were supposedly calculated with the assistance of a 2002 Census Bureau report, but according to a February 2010 Wall Street Journal article, Dr. Mark Schneider, a vice president of the American Institutes for Research— a nonprofit research organization based in Washington— estimated the actual lifetime-earnings advantage for college graduates in a 2009 report. His findings? A $279,893 lifetime difference, much lower than the million dollar mark.

The numbers may be disturbing to college students and high school students that are currently researching colleges, but there are other factors to consider. Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access & Success— a nonprofit group based in Berkeley, California— points out that incomes vary widely, especially based on majors. “Averages don’t tell the whole story … the truth is that no one can predict for you exactly what you’re going to earn,” she says.

On June 11, 2010 USA Today reported that things are looking up for college graduates. For example, consider this: just eight of the fifty-five nursing graduates Santa Rosa Junior College are leaving with job offers — and that’s good news. Last year, no graduates of the California community college’s associate degree nursing program had a job in hand.

More Graduates Means Less Jobs?

Why do things look so bleak? More and more young Americans are attending college each year — many of them are doing so straight after high school — but employers and career experts see a rising trend: an abundance of college graduates are heading into the work force with degrees that aren’t as valuable as they once were. A 2009 Time.com article explains that only 47% of high school graduates went on to college in 1973, but by October 2008 that number had risen to nearly 70%. It’s almost as if there is an oversupply of college graduates in the country.

The LA Times also provided some insight on June 12, 2010. “People with bachelor’s degrees will increasingly get not very highly satisfactory jobs. In that sense, people are getting more schooling than jobs are available.” said W. Norton Grubb, a professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Education.

College is Worthwhile if You Make Wise Choices

No one is trying to say that going to college isn’t “worth it” anymore— in fact, the unemployment rate for college graduates stands at 4.7%, which is less than half of the figure for workers with only a high school diploma— and many employers will only hire employees with a four-year college degree, even if the position could be handled by a high school graduate. You may want to reconsider your field of study or at least how much money you’re willing to invest in your education. Many students are remaining in school to earn higher degrees that wind up being unnecessary.

Liz Pulliam Weston, a writer for MSN Money , shared a few of her observations with readers:

  • Associate’s degrees seem to result in a massive payback, compared to their relatively low cost, for a high school graduate.
  • Any bachelor’s degree you get at a public university is likely to pay off handsomely, as well.
  • Some degrees are a step back. Thinking of a master’s degree in a liberal arts or social sciences field? Let’s hope you’re in it for the love of learning, because on average there doesn’t seem to be any financial payoff.

Choose Your School Wisely

With these thoughts in mind, the best college for you may not necessarily be the most expensive. Studies show that one in ten students in the U.S. graduates owing $40,000 or more in student loans. The price difference for someone to attend a public university in their own state versus the tuition for a private university is considerable, and the student loans you take out may bring you into such debt that you have trouble making your student loan payments once they kick in after graduation.

To stand out from the new-graduate crowd while job-searching, experience may help you immensely. A part-time job or unpaid internship in your prospective field may help get your foot in the door. If you accept a job offer and wind up realizing that you don’t have your dream job, you’re not alone. Most college graduates enter the workforce in entry level positions in hopes of working their way up the ladder, and even this job will help you gain experience to add to your resume!


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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