Is College Worth It?

global computer technology conceptThe arguments go back and forth.  The outcomes depend on who is composing the argument and what database they are using.  My take is that there is no simple answer to the question.

The cost of tuition and the time it takes to earn a 4-year degree (and the resulting loss of income) is certainly an expense, but if if a person can earn enough in a job to compensate for the expense, the answer to the question would be yes. Yet it is still not that simple.

Earning enough to compensate for the expense depends on several factors including the major one selects, the school one attends, the geographic area one lives in, and the desire of the person to work in a field that may not be compatible with their interests and abilities.

It’s long been established that on average, college graduates earn more than those with less education. That doesn’t hold true for all majors.  Majors and the resulting jobs that require mathematical and computer skills tend to earn more than individuals in the social sciences.

For some science areas like biology, the earning payoff doesn’t come until one earns the master’s degree, additional time and expense. What It’s Worth is established in a report by the Georgetown University Center for Education and Work.

And yet, it is still more than numbers. In a just published study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the authors indicate that “not all majors are feasible for every college student. For example, recent  research has shown that graduating with a math or science major is more difficult than pursuing other fields of study. Thus, some of the economic return associated with particular majors may reflect differences in the abilities of the students who choose these majors, and not necessarily the skills obtained through majoring in these fields.

Underemployment is a huge problem for college grads.  There are thousands of college graduates working in jobs that do not require a high school diploma and many in jobs that do not require a high school diploma at all. The Center for College Affordability provides research and opinions on this topic. The center’s director suggests that underemployment may well get worse in the future.

The school one attends can make a big difference. Pay Scale has calculated a return on investment and have identified schools that have a negative return — meaning wasted time and money.

The US Department of Education has created a tool at its College Affordability and Transparency Center.  There you can find out information about colleges, the cost, the most and least expensive institutions, the rate at which tuition is increasing and much more. More people are using this kind of information to make postsecondary decisions.

Whether college is worth it for many people means getting a good job at the end of the journey. The most in-demand occupations for college graduates are white-collar professional and STEM occupations, which together account for 1.1 million job openings posted online, according to the Center for Education and the Workforce.  As career services professionals we need to be sure that the potential college graduates understand where the jobs are likely to be.

Deciding on education and training after high school id a personal decision, but most research points toward the need for education beyond high school to cope with our ever increasing technologically complex society and world of work. 

For additional information read my Career Convergence article “The Goldilocks Challenge: Getting Postsecondary Education Advice Just Right.” Also, check out the course called Realistic Career Decision Making: It’s More Than Passion


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