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College: Is It Worth It?

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Michael Kawamura

Professor Sam Martinez

English 101

December 12 2018

Is College Worth it?

Higher education predates the conception of the United States of America. The first Colonial College, “New College," now known as Harvard University, was established in 1636 with the sole purpose of providing general education and producing Christian men that would become social and religious leaders in the New World (Thelin 37). While the universities of today serve a wider demographic compared to Colonial Colleges, both share the same goal of educating individuals that strive to become leaders in their society. Despite a rise in tuition rates and student debt acquired by attending university, it is undeniable that the benefits of higher education outweigh its potential costs.

The most obvious benefit to acquiring a degree is the potential to earn more money. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, “the average earnings in 2016 for those ages 25 and older whose highest educational attainment was high school were $35,615. The average earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree were $65,482 compared with $92,525 for those with an advanced degree” (U.S. Census Bureau). That is a $29,867 difference per year between a bachelor’s degree and a high school degree on average, and a $56,910 disparity per year between a high school diploma and an advanced degree on average. Assuming that the average lifespan of a person in the United States is 78.8 years, that is a $1.606 million difference in life earnings after 25 between a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree, and a $3.06 million difference between a high school diploma and an advanced degree. According to a study conducted by Georgetown University, “The difference between the life-time wages of college and high school graduates is $1 million; the difference between the highest- and lowest-paying college majors is $3.4 million” (Carnevale, Ban, and Andrew). Obtaining a degree is extremely financially beneficial, especially if one decides to pursue an advanced degree.

While acquiring a degree has the potential to allow an individual to earn more money, attending university is an expensive investment. Many anti-university pundits cite the high expenses and debt acquired by attending university. According to the College Board, “the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2017-2018 school year was $34,740 at private colleges, $9,970 for state residents at public colleges, and $25,620 for out-of-state residents attending public universities” (CollegeData). The costs of attending university has historically increased by about 5% over the past 10 years (CollegeData), so costs will likely increase at a commensurate rate. While these figures are indisputably large, they ignore the average amount of grant and scholarship aid these students receive. The average student received $5,980 at four-year private (for-profit) institutions, $20,920 at four-year private (nonprofit) institutions, $7,190 at four-year public institutions, and $5,080 at two-year public institutions (National Center for Education Statistics). After taking scholarships and grants into consideration, the average cost of tuition, fees, room, and board is $14,900, and the average cost of tuition and fees alone is $3,700 (The College Board). While the sticker price for most universities are indisputably high tuition and fees, on average, are vastly reduced by the availability of grants and scholarships.

Debt is also another issue many critics have commentated on. 65% of individuals graduating from university will incur debt, and there are more than 44 million borrowers who collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt (Friedman). While these figures may seem large, 12.4 million of these borrowers owe between $10,000 and $25,000 (Friedman). Only 2 million of the 44 million borrowers have debts in excess of $100,000 (Friedman). Pundits also point to high student default rates. According to one study, nearly 40% of individuals with student loan debt are expected to be delinquent on payments within twenty years of graduating university (Scott-Clayton), but these statistics are based off calculations done shortly after graduation when many students have yet to start their professional careers. By contrast, the Department of Education estimated that the 20-year default rate on loans initiated in the 2009 academic year would only be 9% of all borrowers (U.S. Department of Education).

While student debt can be scary if incurred in too large a sum, the figures are often conflated to dramatize the dangers of acquiring debt to attend college. As the job market shifts to focus on finding the most qualified candidates, many employers are seeking individuals that have college degrees. While college may be an expensive investment, it pays huge dividends for moderately low risk. The average cost for attending university is $14,900 after scholarships and grants, and the average difference in lifetime earnings between a high school diploma and bachelor’s degree is $1 million (Powell). Even if one has to acquire debt, median debt acquired through loans is only $17,500 (Powell). Despite a rise in tuition rates and student debt acquired by attending university, it is undeniable that the benefits of higher education outweigh its potential costs.



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