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Student Loans, Scholarships and Financial Aid: Is a College Degree Worth it?

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Lately it seems that I can’t turn on the TV or read the news without hearing or seeing something about the rising cost of a college education. All this talk of massive student loan debt, dwindling financial aid programs, and a lackluster job market have a lot of people wondering … is a college degree even worth it?

Bachelor’s Degrees at All Time High Rates

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics explains that the first institutes of higher education in this country were established to meet the demand for school teachers and clergy members, but in recent decades colleges and universities have trained workers in nearly all walks of life. In 2005 the proportion of the United States population that had finished high school and earned Bachelor’s degrees was at an all-time high.

Do College Graduates Earn More?

Somewhere along the line we began hearing that college graduates earned an average of $1 million more over the course of their lifetime than high school graduates, a figure large enough to make anyone want to go to college. The compensation analysis company PayScale, Inc. recently performed a study on 554 colleges and universities across the country and fewer than 10% actually delivered a net return on investment of $1 million or more over the course of college graduates’ careers than high school graduates, causing some people’s excitement to dwindle.

The price tag of a college degree has many worried that its benefits are fading but according to a September 10, 2010 article in the Washington Post, some experts feel that Americans believe college is the ultimate answer; the only way to get a decent job.

The Cost of a College Degree

Hedge fund manager James Altucher, the President of Formula Capital, says that college is overrated and in most cases not worth the money—that there are cheaper and better ways to get an education. Altucher is not planning to send his two daughters to college. “You’ve been fooled into thinking there’s no other way for my kid to get a job . . . or learn critical thinking or make social connections," Altucher said.

Richard Vedder, a professor of economics at Ohio University, claims that it makes less sense for some families to send students to college that it did as recently as five years ago. In 1970, when the overall unemployment rate was 4.9 percent, unemployment among college graduates was at 1.2 percent. But this year the national rate of unemployment has risen to 9.6 percent and unemployment for college graduates has risen to 4.9 percent — more than half the rate of the general population.

On a brighter note, Bureau of Labor Statistics do show that the median weekly earnings of workers with bachelor’s degrees were $1,137 in 2009, or 1.8 times the average amount earned by those with only a high school diploma, and 2.5 times the earnings of high school dropouts.

Social Status of Earning a College Degree

No matter what figures are quoted, no matter what advice is offered by experts … Americans are still going to college. As a whole, the United States population is spending more time in higher education programs than ever before. Post-high school education is valued highly and a main determining factor of class and status. Attaining a degree is one of the main indicators of social class in this country, regardless of income level. Right or wrong, a college degree is in fact “worth it” for that reason alone to many Americans.


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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