June 11, 2019

The Value of An Education

Carnegie Library Syracuse University
I was raised with the very firm belief in the requirement of a college education for success in life. There was never any question of my going somewhere after high school. The cost of my four years at Syracuse University was equal to what one year at a major university costs today. But, in the late 1960's and early 70's  my parents sacrificed to make sure I had both the opportunity and a debt-free start to my future. I did work full time as a radio DJ during my senior year to cover my costs. When I got that diploma it came without a bill.

What we called Junior Colleges, or community colleges today, provided a more cost-sensitive way for many  to further an education after high school. Since the core classes that virtually everyone studies during those first two years are pretty much the same, the choice of a local two year institution for much less money was a wise choice. With good grades it was usually possible to transfer your credits to a four year university.

Of course, plenty of people made a very nice living and were quite content following a path that didn't include college. Working in the trades, starting one's own retail business, following in dad's footsteps...all were legitimate career paths. It was very possible to build a solid life with just a high school diploma.

Since I wanted to be an on-air radio performer, college wasn't really a requirement. But, in my social circles,  there wasn't even a debate: get that degree, list it on your resume, and your future is solid. As my parents noted more than once, when I "outgrew" my DJ lifestyle I'd be set for a grownup job. Today, the situation is so different I wonder if I would have selected the same path that had been predestined for me.

Approximately 70% of high school graduates continue in some form of higher education. Just a high school degree means a tough path forward. But, that education after high school isn't necessarily in a typical university setting.

With experienced plumbers, electricians, carpenters, or HVAC technicians able to earn incomes well in excess of what many white collar workers bring home, spending time in technical schools or learning a trade as an apprentice is a perfect choice for many. A computer-savvy young adult can skip a "formal" educational path and find employment quite readily. His or her skills are very marketable.

OK, so with that background, I am circling around to my question: is a college education always worth the cost? The average for tuition, room, board, supplies, and incidentals for a four year public university is between $25-$45,00. Want an Ivy league education, or attendance at a prestigious private school? How about $55-$67,000 per year.

We are aware of the number of young people who leave college with a lifetime of debt. We have been reading of wealthy parents who pay enormous sums of money to simply get their prodigy into a well-ranked school. For those caught, that can result in fines, jail time, and the expulsion of their child. Such is the net result of attempting to cheat the system.

A recent research study showed 95% of grandparents believe it is important for their grandkids to get a higher education Yet, our influence in this is probably a bit limited. We may be able to voice our opinions about what the educational path of a grandchild might look like, but the final decision will be made by the parents, with input from the young adult. If we have the resources, we may be able to help cover some of the costs, either voluntarily or after "hints" from the parents. The same study says 21% of us give money to be used for a youngster's tuition.

But, doesn't that beg the question? Even if a college education can be paid for, should it? Is the path to success always through the ivied halls of an institution of higher education? If the young adult will leave with a sheepskin and a looming debt, is the cost-expense ratio still in his or her's favor?

Sure, wanting to become a doctor, lawyer, teacher, scientist, or other endeavors that require specialized knowledge equals four, six, or even eight years of schooling. But, a liberal arts education with a degree in English Lit, International Relations, or History? Does that on a resume equal solid employment?

I come from a family deeply involved in higher education. My answer remains, yes, college is important. But, my reason why it is important has changed. Being away from home at a four year school should do two things: teach someone how to manage the art of living and responsibility, and to develop the ability to think and reason. College isn't so much about any individual class. It is about learning how to learn, how to think on one's own, and how to begin to form a world view that is not just a copy of one's parents.

The actual degree means much less today. Electronic resumes emphasize experience and personal skills. Educational achievements are often listed last. Someone will be hired based on what they have done, what skills they possess, and how they help an employer achieve goals, not because the 3.7 GPA from State U.

So, go with me for a minute. If what I just wrote is true, then gathering life experiences is the real path to success. Working well with others matters. Being computer-literate, knowing how to use Excel, understanding the use of social media for promotion and marketing.....these are the skills that may get someone hired.

Is a four year education after high school required for everyone? If your grandchild decides that type of environment (and cost) isn't best for them, would you support that choice, and more importantly, feel good about it?

My bottom line straddles the fence a bit: college can be a time to learn to develop one's independence and function in an adult world. It is when one can use the priceless gift of time to learn how to think.

At the same time, it can saddle someone with debt and give them freedoms they are not equipped to handle. Four years in college may actually delay a young person's career path if their skills are not enhanced by a standard degree.

So, here are my questions to you: 

1) If you attended college, was it worth it to you and your family? Did the skills you learned directly apply to your employment? Did you get a return on the investment of time and money?

2) If a grandchild asked for your opinion about attending college, what would you say? If that child decides to skip the university path, would you feel disappointed, worried for their future prospects, or supportive of that decision for that particular person?

3) What is the value of a college education today? How much debt is it worth?


  1. I attended university though I worked for 10 years first. As I was long out of my parents house I paid my own way. Fortunately in the 10 years before I entered university I became fully qualified in a trade which meant I was able to earn good money while classes were out from May to September. I majored in Computer Science and entered that field directly after University so for sure my education directly applied to my (next) field of employment. I know I am not the usual case plus being older and giving up a decent job to attend I was focused on ROI.

    I would advise a grandchild to attend university but I wouldn't be disappointed if they chose a different path. I wouldn't recommend doing it the way I did but for me it really wouldn't have worked any other way. That said one of my daughters followed the traditional path of university directly after high school with an English major French minor (she made the Dean's List too) and it has lead to a solid career for her. My other daughter dropped out of high school (definitely not advised) but after many years of night school while working graduated last year from community college and is happily employed in her chosen career. Different paths for different people.

    I have heard it said that your basic Bachelor of Arts university degree is the new high school diploma so perhaps that's it's value. I am actually coming around to the idea that perhaps it should be publicly funded just as high school education is. Jobs are only becoming more technical and specialized these days and being able to master the skill of "how to think" is more and more important. I believe in education and I paid for both of my daughters to attend post secondary (including the night classes for daughter number 2) but how much debt is it worth? Well, that's an individual question but my opinion is that unless you are rolling in money attending an Ivy League university probably isn't worth what it costs over a public university.

    1. I like your observation that a BA is really equivalent to a High School diploma today.

      I agree that 4 years of post high school education should be free to anyone wanting to go that route. An educated population is essential to our future. Likewise, if someone chooses a trade or technical approach that should be covered, too. It would be quite discriminatory if only those who wanted a 4 year university experience would have that funded.

      Paying $65,000 a year for the prestige of an Ivy League school is silly, in my view. Unless your goal is to be a corporate lawyer and Yale needs to be on your sheepskin, then save the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

  2. I graduated from college exactly 25 years after I started. Did three years right after high school. But for years I felt like a failure for not having finished. So I started back again only this time they'd changed the requirements for a degree, and I was still working, so it took me two years to finish. And yes it was worth it to me in terms of the self-respect I gained. Clearly, I do value getting an education. It's about more than just learning a profession.

    I'd like to see a system where kids out of high school can enter a public service core for a year to earn credit towards a free trade school or college. Maybe one year of volunteering will get you three free years of education and the last year is on you or your parents to pay in the form of college loans. For those going into professions that need post-grad work maybe they could commit to doing another year in a service core after grad school---one year pays off three years of student loans or pay them off on your own. I'm not for a completely free college education, I believe the kids need to have some skin in the game.

    1. RE:L Free college education. I think tuition should be covered. But, the "skin in the game" could come from room, board, books, and fees. That adds a few thousand a year so the person is making a decent investment into his or her future.

      I like your idea of public service = credit towards post high school education. Of course, I am sure the bureaucracy created to manage that would be more expensive that just paying for college. But, I like the idea that all citizens of this country should donate something to the common good, at least once in their life.

      I didn't really enjoy my 6 years in the Reserves, but I did like that I was available and trained to help in something that might be critical to our national well-being. In my case, it would have been protecting the Alaskan pipeline.

  3. College is worth it for some; a waste of time for others. Depends on the person, their abilities and ambitions. The problem is that the drive to go to college is often cultural rather than personal. People in the upper middle class (to generalize) expect their kids to go to college; people in the blue-collar class may expect the opposite. So imho a kid should go to college if they really want to learn how to do math and science and read poetry, not how to drink beer. And people should be happy to send their kid to a technical school to learn a trade, if that's what they're really interested in. My wife's son went to cooking school, the only one in the family not to go to a traditional liberal arts college. He's got a great job, making decent money, and has opportunities to get ahead ... and is at least as well off as his siblings.

    1. Your comment is an excellent summary of my key point: the decision for some form of education and training after high school should be an individual one. Just because those in your social class are "expected" to go to Harvard (or Syracuse!) is not a valid reason.

  4. My parents sacrificed to send the six of us to the colleges (within financial reason) of our choice. It's particularly amazing, as given my father was a professor in our state college system, we all had tuition waiver at any college within that system, but we were still allowed to go to the school of our choosing. They said they had x amount to spend each month, so if we got a financial aid package which fell within that cap, off we went!
    My four years at college were some of the best years in my life. I learned so much. When I graduated, I started at what seemed like an entry level position in a major financial institution, (little to do with my major, by the way) but was the same level as some women who had been with the company over three decades. Why? Because the Senior Vice President of our division wanted only college graduates in his department. He said a college degree proved we could think, meaning training us should be no problem.
    I believe people get frightened by the cost of private, liberal arts schools, not realizing that these schools have grant money they can give to students, unlike the public colleges. When I graduated, I had $5,000 GSL, which at the time seemed like a lot, but at $50/month, low interest, it was manageable. That was about average for my age group with four-year degrees. (I finally got sick of paying it, and finished it with one lump sum about 2 years in.)
    I think the huge debt we see is for people with advanced degrees--not just four-year degrees--which means they also have a high income potential. Case in point, my classmate who went on to med. school, had over $100k in loans, but that was cleared quickly after starting his practice. Other than that, you understand that being a PhD. student at most schools is a paid position? Oh, it doesn't pay much, but you get a stipend. I recall very lean years when my father was working on his PhD. (Earned it shortly before I entered kindergarten.) My siblings who earned PhD's had similar situations--they found schools with programs which gave them fellowships or assistantships. Any loans they took were not for education, but because they weren't willing to live as leanly as my parents did back in the day! In other words, if you are tens of thousands of dollars in debt for your four-year degree, then you went to the wrong four-year school. Sure, I may have wanted to go to a certain school in Boston, but their financial aid package was non-existent. I could have taken private loans, but that would have been stupid. Very stupid. There were other schools, better schools, in fact, which were not cost prohibitive.
    Finally, and perhaps more importantly, yes, a college education is worth it, yes, even if you major in, say, Medieval Music. You see, the purpose of a college education is to get an education, NOT to learn a social function. The education in and of itself will help enhance your life in ways that I don't think you can explain to people who don't have/value higher education. An education isn't something that you get simply to use as currency to exchange for a job.

    1. An excellent overview, Meg. Thank you. No, I wasn't aware that PhD students are being paid something for their work, but that makes sense, since they handle some of the teaching load.

      I couldn't agree more with your comment that an education isn't something that necessarily translates directly into a job, though it does if you're on a path towards a trade career. An education should teach you to think, form your own world view, learn to manage your time and yourself, and give you confidence.

      To make your point, my major was International Relations...I became a radio announcer. That course of study did give me a lifelong curiosity and thirst for learning and reading in all sorts of disciplines that had very little to do with how I spent the next 30 year.

  5. I am a lawyer and my ex-husband is a lawyer. We have one son who will be going to law school. We have a daughter with a Master's degree. We have two sons who work in the construction trades, but who could have gone to college easily. They have the intellectual capacity. They are just using it in the constructions trades, and we approve. Our philosophy is that higher education is kind of a racket, the debt is way too much for middle class folks, and we are very supportive of our sons who did not go to college. I do not mean to sound pompous, I could send all of my kids to an ivy league college and pay in cash. We did not pay a dime for our daughter's college. She went on a full ride musical college scholarship, with an escalation clause, and then auditioned and made the Navy band. She served five years and then used the GI bill to pay for her masters. The son who is going to law school went to junior college, then to a state school four year university. He has taken out loans, which I will pay back. He also had scholarships. He is self supporting and works. I just viewed the interest on the loans to be low enough that it made financial sense for him to do it this way. It does not make sense for most middle class U.S. citizens to do it this way. The loans haunt them, literally. My ex does bankruptcy law. The loans are nondischargeable under bankruptcy law. I hope my son goes into my job, as a prosecutor, for a few years and gets a discharge of his loans. If not, I will pay them. Again, it does not make sense for most middle class folks, unless they are getting an RN or engineering/computer degree to get the loans. I stand by my statement, that higher education is a financial racket, as a general rule.

    1. Based on the recent news of the Hollywood parents paying huge sums of money to get their kids into prestigious schools, the system certainly has flaws. And, burdening a young person with decades of debt makes no sense. The cost of college is placing it out of reach for anyone not in the upper middle class (except for G.I. bill type arrangements)

      You and your family are a good case study of the different ways for a child to achieve his/her goals. Sometimes college, sometimes not. Sometimes debt, sometimes not. Thank you for these real life examples of different paths to a goal.

  6. My opinion is that young adults need to take one of three paths in order to live well in the USA at this point in time: 1) A four year university degree, 2) A trade school in a well paying field, or 3) Become an entrepreneur of some sort.

    Aside from these three post-high school options, a life of getting by on minimum wage likely awaits.

    Regarding option #1, the one I can personally speak to, there is no reason high school graduates can't begin their college careers at their nearby junior college, free to students in almost half of our states, and very low cost for the remainder. As juniors they can then transfer to the closest public four year university and live at home, plus work part time. That's going to result in a pretty low cost four year degree, and it's the precise path I followed. I had an amazing career, earning well into six figures before I retired, so this path didn't impact me negatively in any way.

    Going away to school for four years is a privilege for those that can afford it. It is not the only pathway, however, and I find myself very frustrated when I hear it presented as such. Live at home, go to an inexpensive JC for your first two years, and the closest public four year for your last two, and you are not looking at much in the way of debt upon graduation.

    1. I want to emphasize your statement that "it is not the only pathway, and I find myself very frustrated when I hear it presented as such." One size does not fit all in virtually anything: growing up, educational choices, retirement.....we are unique individuals. It would benefit everyone if the default mindset wasn't forcing everyone into a predetermined box.

  7. Since I wanted to be a lawyer, a graduate program was a requirement. But although I was admitted to a prestigious law school, I chose a local state law school that allowed me to pay as I went and graduate debt free. (That was a long time ago, and I doubt that would be true now, although there is still a wide range of tuition costs.)

    I got my two daughters through college debt free. For one an associate's degree was specific to her career in hospitality, and that was enough. The other one did two years getting the basics at community college and then finished her four year accounting degree at the local state university.

    I think you are spot on with your advice. There is plenty of money to be made in the trades, and if someone has an interest in that and a knack for it, then by all means go for it.

    1. I need a sprinkler repair. The cost to just show up and look at the problem is $90. To fix what I think is wrong is another $175. Repeat that four or five times a day and the income will exceed that of many physicians or lawyers without all the stress.

  8. I am in my mid-50's now and I put myself through college. I have a 4 year degree in Accounting. I am from a large family. My parents always said they could not pay for college, so I was on my own. I also was on my own to figure out how I was going to accomplish getting a degree. I knew I wanted to attend right after High School. My parents NEVER assisted me or gave me ANY guidance. So starting at 16 I was "on my own" to figure it out. I did NOT earn any scholarships or grants because you needed to have activities to list on those applications. I had chores at home (cooking dinner, cleaning, ironing, and babysitting my siblings) I also worked multiple jobs to pay for school. I did not have a car to drive, but had to wait for rides and we lived on out on the edge of town. I did end up switching schools which added 6 months to my four years. I also took summer classed to make up for some credits I needed at the school I graduated from. I went to a state university, which cost approximately $ 8,000.00 per year. My total student loans came to $ 3250.00 which I paid off within a few years. I am so glad I sacrificed & earned money to pay for college. I was used to sacrificing since I grew up in a large family and didn't get alot of things my peers did. But the most important lesson I learned was that no matter what life threw at me, I could figure out how to handle things. It gave me a lot of confidence in myself that has benefited my during many difficult things in life.

    1. Your path to your goals is probably the more common route than many of us think: figuring how to make it work using your own intelligence and creativity.

      I like your last two sentences...contain a lot of wisdom that is worth repeating: "No matter what life threw at me, I could figure out how to handle things. It gave me a lot of confidence in myself that has benefited me during many difficult things in life."

      I say, Bravo, Mary.

  9. This is a subject near and dear to my heart, for a variety of reasons. The first reason is that we currently have three children attending college so we are in the thick of this right now.

    Our oldest daughter graduates next week - she has attended a public university here in Oregon for the past four years. Our younger two attend well-known private colleges in the east. All three receive (or have received) significant financial aid from the colleges they attend and work to cover the difference. Although all three qualified for significant federal aid based on our income and number of students in college, the only aid they have taken are Pell grants (not the full amount offered), and work study.

    We will be helping out our youngest though beginning either this coming year or the year after as she will be the only one left in school and her aid will drop accordingly while the cost of attending school will not. All three chose colleges that are a good fit for them (our son also attended a private college on a full scholarship nearly 20 years ago).

    One studies computer science and is already working in the tech field, one studies multi-media and graphic design, and one studies Mandarin and environmental science. All three were prepared to start at community college if the financial aid they needed was not available, but they wanted to go to the schools they are attending and worked extremely hard in high school (a issue I have problems with these days) in order to qualify for the scholarships they received. By the way, the two who attend private schools chose to go that route because that's where the money is when it comes to scholarships and financial aid. Our daughter attending the public university received a scholarship that covered her tuition and fees from the university, but she has paid all of her own living expenses the past four years. Two out of the three will graduate with no loans; our youngest will probably have to take out loans but with our help they should be minimal.

    One of the things a college education offers, besides all the positives others have mentioned above, are connections. Not everyone takes advantage of them, but they are there and can help a student find employment, or at least get their foot in the door. This is true for whether they attend a large public university, their local community college, a private school, or a trade school. Another thing a college education shows is an ability to stick with something and finish, whether that's in four years, or even later in life.

    1. Connections..I am so glad you mentioned this. While the importance of learning how to learn and think independently are obvious pluses of a college (or technical) education, the connections and networking that can come from such a setting can prove to be invaluable. I would guess you are right: these are advantages that not everyone cultivates.

  10. (part 2...too long for Blogger!)

    The cost of college these days though is astronomical, way out of reach for most middle class families, with extensive debt the result for many. When I started attending college back in 1970, the cost of my private liberal arts college was just $4000 per year for both tuition and room and board, a cost my very middle class parents could afford. That same college today costs over $65,000 per year to attend and the cost goes up every year.

    When our son got ready to go to college back in 1996, the public university here in Oregon was around $7000/year for tuition and room and board, too expensive at the time for my husband and I, and there was little to no financial aid offered. He ended up at a private college with a full scholarship. Our daughter has attended the same university - her first year cost over $25K, and has gone up every year. Room and board now costs more than tuition and fees, and that was for a tiny, cramped room. It's been less expensive for her to live in an apartment off campus.

    There are lots of reasons for the increased costs, the biggest (in my opinion) being the expansion of the administrative class within the school hierarchy, but there are other reasons as well. Sometimes I think the cost have gone up just because colleges and universities know they can raise them and people will pay (and borrow and go into debt). Other countries offer free college, and private colleges cost nothing near to what ours do, so I believe it's something we could achieve if we wanted. And I think that student loan debt is holding down our economy in ways people haven't figured out yet and that haven't been completely revealed.

    Finally, I still am paying off my huge student loans, and will be paying until I am 83 years old. My loans were acquired when I earned my MA, a necessary requirement to work in my field, one that turned out to have very few full-time positions and where salaries were never all that high. I am grateful for the degree, loved the work I did, but in hindsight I wish I had not had to borrow as much. We are lucky we can afford the payments now, but I wish we had that money available for other purposes.

    1. The $4,000 per year cost sounds about right for Syracuse when I started in 1967. Today, it is $45,000 befor room, board, and fees. That is obscene.

      Without knowing the whole story, I tend to agree that colleges charge what they do for multiple reasons, but one is there seems to be no ceiling on what enough people will pay. I am sure there are all sorts of factors, like insurance, buildings and maintenance, pensions for tenured staff, etc. But, I venture to guess they would figure out how to survive on a tighter budget if they needed to.

      You are still paying off student loans and will until your 80's? That is the educational story in a nutshell. What makes it impressive is not that you are doing that, but that you and Brett have not let it dictate how you live. You two have just completed part of a round-the-world experience. Life is short; you know what makes you happy. Your are meeting your loan obligations AND living life full throttle.


  11. Constant conversations in our house. With two attending on line, and six grands in the shoot- college.
    College is changing, quickly. Elites will continue to go to boarding schools (like they did 50 years ago for high school). The rest of them? On line, or short technical is our bet.
    I have always felt that 7-10th grades are the most important ones. I am encouraging the best High School possible (and have been saving for it). Learn how to read, written, communicate and do the math you need in most professions.
    I think students should be able to take high school exit exams at 16 and begin apprentice job like Germany/Austria does it. If you "force" everyone into college, it will become high school all over. My husband taught many seniors trying to pass "that math class". It was terrible.
    As far as the "growing up process" maybe that needs to be looked at as well. In college now you are taught to think as the professor thinks (according to my kids' age group). Have you been to a dorm lately? Very nice apartment, not struggling college person. Those are why the debts are so high.
    Some students do their junior and senior years at the junior college already (but travel back to their high school for the proms and such). That is often Free! Most states do offer junior college for free or very reduced price (Phoenix college is about $2,000 a year)- and that is good. Several of my nephews and nieces graduated high school and AA at the same time. They matriculated to a four year campus and have all graduated with degrees covered by state scholarships.
    Four year college should be for those who need it for a profession (Dr, Lawyer, Chief) Elementary teachers (an most professions, should be like nurses, licensed after two years of intensive OTJT. Most of the really wealthy and happy oldies I know never "worked for the man" and did not need a degree.

    OTOH- my sil did eight years in the Marines and did his degree on line. The degree turned out to be a "check the block", his experience was more important. He makes more than we ever did --and he is 32. Computers....
    On line degrees are game changers.
    Student debt? As in all things, you have choices. You chose to take it on, you pay the bill. Why should 100% of the nation pay off 12% of the nation's bad choices? My daughter said that she would be ticked. More then 70% of the people she knew who joined the military did it for college.
    I'd rather have universal health care - so would she :)

    1. I'm glad you raised the option of online education. I don't know enough about the quality of those offerings to comment, but it seems a logical choice for many.

      I will disagree with you about the loan issue. 100% of us pay taxes to support elementary schools even though not everyone has children or are well past the child-rearing age. 15% of seniors rely on Medicare. Some of the cost is covered by employment taxes, but most of us get far more in benefits, paid for by 100% of us.

      Helping to pay for an education is part of a nation's investment in its future. Just like our taxes paying for Interstate roads in Alabama or an aircraft carrier steaming around the Pacific, there are costs associated with a society that are not used or supported by 100% of us.

      Sure, there can be a reasonable cap on what is covered. But, excessive college loans are as much a fault of the institutions as the people attending that school.

    2. 100% of us were children who had the ability to go to public school. 100% of us who make it to 65 will have the comfort of Medicare .
      Only 30% graduate from college. It isn't necessary for everyone. In fact, when you have too many managers, the system falls apart. Of that 30% less then half have outstanding student loans larger then $10,000.
      Junior college is very affordable for trades in most states.
      You live in a state with reasonable university tuition - $12,000 a year. Kids take out loans for EVERYTHING- housing, nice cars, good meals, semesters abroad. I, personally, lived off of Ramon, drove a junker, lived at home in the summer to work, and thought that a trip to Taco Bell was international travel.

      The squeaky wheels who chose to go to schools and take out loans that they cannot pay back, I am sorry they did not have good guidance.
      I think priority needs to be health care and food.
      This week we will serve 40 families and I am not sure where we will get the meat. We will figure it out, but the squeaky wheels need to find another source then my taxes for their poor choices ( or the poor choices of their institutions that they chose). IMHO.

  12. I attended a community college when I was 28 and our son was 8, on a $3000 student loan (for the WHOLE NURSING PROGRAM!!) And when I graduated I got a great job at Mesa General Hospital.10 years later,I worked at Planned Parenthood and they sponsored a $10,000 tuition for me to become a Nurse Practitioner.I believe in FOCUSED education.

    Ken’s education costs a bundle.He’s a chiropractor/acupuncturist. He worked in the “trades” as a House painter,working for decorators and historical restorations.. to pay our bills along the way and I can attest to the fact that a CAREER IN THE TRADES IN VERY LUCRATIVE! It was hard to give up that income when he went to grad school and we moved (more student loans.) But we knew when he got out of grad school a good job was waiting.

    Life experience,learning to think on your own: I don’t think a 20,000 a year college sojourn is a good way to do that theses days,College is often a postponement of maturity, if you ask me. Then, when the “kids” are saddled with the awful student loans, they are STILL tethered to living at home with the folks.. not a good story...

    So, I believe in a focused, career oriented education if you’re gonna go to college. All the other learning: With today’s world and technology and travel there are PLENTY OF WAYS to learn how to navigate the world..

    I don’t believe kids should go to college till they really have an idea of a career path.Maybe they need a gap year or two or three,first— learn a little more about it the real world before borrowing all that money. Maybe even learn a TRADE,FIRST!!! Something to always fall back on and VERY GOOD FOR SELF ESTEEM, to work hard, right!!!???

    1. Thanks for a slightly different perspective. Most of us think of college for its maturity-building and learning environment. But, maybe the world has changed to the point where the focus needs to be more on learning skills and knowledge that is employable. With the Internet and so many online opportunities to learn on one's own, the broad liberal arts teaching can come in other, less expensive ways.

      To be honest, when I see pictures of students partying to the point of sickness, or the abusses that can occur in the Greek system, I have a hard time seeing the justification for going into debt or using their parent's retirement money for such behavior. Four years at Uni shouldn't turn into four years of avoiding grown up responsibilities.

      These comments make it clear the world is changing, and how we view the place of college is changing along with it.

  13. Great question and so relevant. I did attend college and got my BS. Growing up in a rural community, I wanted to ensure I could always support myself and be independent. My degree in secondary and adult education moved me in a career path in non-profit management, which was rewarding, ensured a comfortable lifestyle,and paid the bills. I would never have had this lifestyle had I not gotten my degree. However, what is comfortable for one may not be what someone else wants. I enjoyed the challenge of college-I paid for it on my own. However,I also didn't study abroad, buy "things", ate on the simple food plan, joined Forensics and traveled to tournements representing the University and saw new places, and made craft type gifts for birthdays and Christmas. I worked a campus job, worked summers at camps, and worked at the local drug store when I was home on breaks. I didn't want for much and had friends, fun, and lots of great memories.

    I find do not want to judge the choices others make for educational endeavors. However,what I do believe is that decisions such as these should be made with "balance" in mind. When our children went to college, they worked, we had saved, and together we agreed on a financial plan. I remember conversations about not owning a "money tree" so studying abroad was not something we would fund. Both of our children went to in-state colleges, one at a big ten school, where she got some scholarship money.
    Each got a BS and since have both funded, with no loans, a MS. I was most proud that that was their decisions and they felt it was important.

    My husband and I made the decision to forgo fancy toys and trinkets for our grandchild and have put money in her college savings account. The decisions she makes regarding education after high school will be best for her at that time. I honestly hope that the college experience will be an option for her. However,even more important that she has a strong-"can do" work ethic, is kind to others, is healthy, and wants to help others.
    Great Question.

    1. And, good answer! I appreciate your balanced response. The ultimate choice should be what is best for the young person. In today's environment, avoiding crushing debt or raiding someone's retirement account should be an important part of that decision.

      Your thoughts reminded me of two rather miserable summer jobs I took to help with college expenses when my parents lived in northern Florida. One summer I sold encyclopedias door-to-door in southern Georgia. The next summer I worked at an outdoor parking lot in downtown Jacksonville, Fl. Horrible, both of them.

  14. I worked as a nurse for 34 years, having "trained" at a hospital-based 3-yr program that was well-respected, i.e. graduates of that program were scooped up by hospitals. I did complete a BScN program 12 years later; it took 5 years while I continued to work. Retirement was the first time since high school graduation that I wasn't going to school or working, other than the year I had my son. It was a hospital work experience during high school that motivated me to choose nursing, a career that has served me well. Education itself doesn't necessarily translate into a well-rounded person. I've known a lot of high-achieving people academically who couldn't seem to function well in the work setting or in the real world. I've known highly successful people who didn't thrive in a formal education setting. I'm thinking of my son at the time of his high school graduation. He was undecided about his next step and an acquaintance helped to clarify things for both of us. That person said my son had 2 choices - he could go to work or he could go to post-secondary school. No education is wasted and all work is an education.

    1. Work can be an education...absolutely. Learning interpersonal relational skills, communication, and money management will serve someone well for the rest of their life. It is easy to confuse "book-learning" with education.

      In my case, visiting a radio station at age 12 set me on my life's path from that point forward. Like your hospital work experience, at the right time and place, something will click and you know it is your future.

  15. When I was growing up in a rural area, the girls were encouraged to go to nursing school or become teachers. Those who were proficient in the secretarial arts were shepherded in that direction and didn't go to college. I got a mixed message, as my grades were good but our h.s. guidance counselor wasn't much help. After two years of a half-hearted effort, I dropped out to work (at a radio station - LOL) when my dad decided I had to help pay since my grades clearly didn't reflect any commitment on my part. (He was right.) Within a few years, I married and had three kids. Over the next 12 years or so, I worked at random jobs (aerobic dance teacher, radio DJ, bookkeeper, election canvasser, etc.). After one too many crazy bosses, I came to the conclusion I needed to finish my degree or work for idiots all my life. (Ha! Little did I know that wouldn't save me from idiots.) Anyway, I went back to school with three kids under 10 and finished my degree while working part time to pay tuition. It was an intense time, but I loved it. And, at the time, the employers that interested me wouldn't talk to anyone without a degree.

    Now I have one daughter with a PhD and another who is ABD and writing her dissertation. When I watch what they went through to get advanced degrees, I am exhausted and have no idea how they kept going. The academic world is extremely political, publish or perish is real, and the grad students (while they do make SOME money) are really underpaid and used as virtual slave labor. The more prestigious the professor, the more they are able to foist their work onto their grad students. Ask any university student how many full professors they see in a normal semester - if they're lucky, they may have a large lecture or an advanced class from the professor. But most classes and labs are taught by TAs now. And the TAs are focused on finishing so they can make a living wage some day. And start paying off their loans. So besides the crazy cost of school, the education standards have changed IMHO.

    Both daughters worked between and while acquiring each degree, but they will still end up with debt. One works in Europe with many multi-nationals and none of them have student debt. They see this as a uniquely American experience.

    All that said, I would love to see more people go into the trades. It is virtually impossible to find a stone mason or a dry waller around us, and the plumbers and electricians are booked far into the future. Like you, I know by what we pay them that they can make a good living and agree that many of them are easily pulling down six figures.

    1. Working with your hands and solving someone's problem or making their day stress free are other pluses of working in a trade. Someone behind a desk, in a cubicle, filing papers can't possibly have the same level of satisfaction as someone who repairs a leak, makes a car run smoothly, fixes a dangerous electric problem, turns a wasted space into a finished room or anything else where the end result of a job are easily seen. I fully support anyone who can take a technical skill and turn it into a good living.

      You highlight the problems I see with advanced degrees. While getting one for the intellectual challenge is one thing, doing it for a better salary seems like a real roll of the dice.

      The prevalence of TAs in college also speaks to the advantages of a junior or community college for at least the basic courses of the first two years. Why pay princely sums if the instructor is only going to be a few years older than you?

    2. I should add that anyone who was a radio DJ deserves a special tip of my hat.

  16. I'm conflicted with this question because on one hand as a business owner I used to be able to hire people with a high school degree to do basic things such as filing. Over the years I found that people with only high school education didn't have basic skills so I had to upgrade my requirements to a bachelor's degree.

    But on the other hand, I also think college is over rated (I know I'm conflicted here).

    Many people can find a trade that fulfills them financially for much less money than a four year (or five year because so many schools don't offer the classes the kids need to get out in four years) education.

    Does it make financial sence to bollow $100,000 in order to have a liberal arts degree? Will this financial burden be worth it? I've heard stories of dentists who have over $300K in in debt just from their student loans. This isn't including the equipment that they will purchase. Most dentists only make around $100K per year, so in my opinion, getting 500K into debt (degree+equipment) doesn't make financial sense. Becoming a plumber is much cheaper and you'll make the same amount of money, if not more.

    I do agree with those who've already commented that if you are going to get a degree, start with the Jr. College first. You'll save money AND get a better education due to the smaller class sizes.

    1. Someone above noted that a 4 year bachelor's degree is what a High School diploma used to signify. There are so many kids getting out of High School who are not equipped to read well, understand finances, make decisions, or even understand basic life planning skills. Our educational system is failing our children.

      I realize none of this will make you less conflicted (!) but it is important to understand what our children and grandkids face. The automatic path that leads to college doesn't seen as automatic anymore.

  17. 1. Yes, worth it. I got a fine art degree, and because of all I learned I was able to do much more than paste up newspapers. 2. Yes, go. You will grow so much bu just being there. 3. Today my 17 grand in student loans is nothing. Any debt is worth a better soul, a richer view of the world, and the ability so see.

    1. That is the answer I grew up hearing. Even though my degree wasn't used directly in my career, the time away from home and learning to exist and thrive on my own was important.

  18. In Canada, where college and university education is substantially supported by tax dollars, most degree areas range in cost from $4,500-10,000 per year (the lower end is for community colleges; the upper end is for professional programs at university). A few specific areas such as medical degrees and MBA’s are higher. The research shows that an individual’s overall financial outcome over a lifetime, with student debt load and years of lost earnings (due to being in school rather than working) factored in, is directly correlated with years of post-secondary education. Financially, a university education and completing advanced degrees provide a good ROI. But people don’t go to university just for financial reasons. Level of education is also correlated with life satisfaction, health outcomes, and length of life (and, in Canada, likelihood of voting for a socially progressive party).

    In the USA, government funding for post-secondary education has been systematically slashed since the 1980’s, leading to high tuitions, and forcing post-secondary institutions to depend more and more on donations from private individuals and corporations to fund their operations. Professors have to spend more time writing grant proposals to fund research (which is a requirement to keep their job and progress in their career), leaving less time for senior professors to spend time teaching. This leaves a heavy teaching load to be carried by poorly paid teaching assistants, sessional (temporary) instructors, and junior untenured faculty. It puts many middle class and working class families in the position not being able to afford post-secondary education, or of having to make huge sacrifices to do so.

    In my opinion, the main reason that the USA can’t afford to fund education is because of the huge proportion of the GDP diverted to military spending. The low level of taxation on large corporations is another factor.


    1. I have never understand the rationale behind cutting funding for the education of future leaders and citizens while having enough military hardware to blow the world up multiple times.

      Since future attacks are likely to be cyber attacks, you'd think we would be investing in more STEM skills and less in fancy tanks.

      And, if we have an uneducated citizenship, all the bombs in the world won't protect them from self-caused mistakes.