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Is College Worth the Cost?

The costs of college

If you’ve found yourself questioning whether going to college is worth the effort and expense, you’re not alone. A new study by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicates that while the majority of teens and young adults 13-29 believe that higher education is valuable, 45% feel that a high school diploma will sufficiently prepare them for success in today’s economy.

Much of this perspective is shaped by the rapidly rising costs of college. In the past 30 years, tuition has more than doubled at public four-year colleges, even after inflation. Not surprisingly, college loan debt has doubled as well. The average cost for undergraduates to attend a four-year college in 2015-2016 was about $26,000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Many college students and graduates find themselves weighed down by the responsibility of heavy loan payments after graduation, preventing them from making the most of their aspirations. Working to pay off student debt may take years, and often severely impacts graduates’ ability to support themselves and their families. This financial responsibility drives some prospective students to skip college (and the future benefits it could provide them) altogether.

With great sacrifice comes great reward

But wait! Before you go recycling your college applications and heading off into the workforce, take a look at this statistic from the US Department of Education: “Today, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require education and training beyond a high school diploma.” (See College Affordability ). Not only that, but research shows that approximately two-thirds of available jobs now require postsecondary education or training.

As you’re deciding whether or not to pursue a higher education, it’s important to not only consider the likelihood of a better job and salary following graduation, but also the many other personal benefits, experiences and opportunities you’ll only find at college.

For example, new research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York demonstrates that, on average, college graduates earn over $30,000 more per year than an employee with only a high school diploma. This research also found that the average rate of return (or net gain) on the investment into college over the life of your career is 14 percent.

But the benefits don’t stop at increased socioeconomic mobility. College is quite often a transformative experience for the students who embrace it. Not only do you gain the skills to be successful in your career, but you can actually learn how to learn. It’s an opportunity to explore who you are, what you believe, and how you might use those values to be a more engaged and productive member of society. The soft and hard skills you gain in college can last you for a lifetime, and there are few opportunities more essential to success in home and life.

The bottom line? For most people, the benefits of higher education still outweigh the costs. A college education remains the best investment you can make into your future, whether you’ve just graduated high school, or you need to make a career change. The experience and life skills you’ll gain during college are essential to access the economic opportunity needed to succeed in America’s global economy.

Things to keep in mind

That being said, there are some things to take into consideration before you make your final decision. The value of your investment can be significantly decreased if you make any of the following blunders:

  • Not considering your long-term plans. Your area of study is one of the single most important decisions you’ll make when you begin college. Consider your desired career, the average likely salary, and how long it will take to begin earning that salary before incurring significant debt for school.
  • Taking longer than 4 years to finish.  If you don’t plan to actively apply yourself in classes, study consistently, and finish your degree quickly, college may not be for you. Research shows that students who don’t complete their bachelor’s degree in the standard 4-year term incur additional tuition, fees, and forgone earnings that damage the rate of return on their college investment.
  • Dropping out before completing your degree. Estimates related to the net benefits of college only apply to those who actually finish their degree. While there may be some benefits to the time you spent in college, completion is essential to reap the full impact.

Another way

Interested in learning about a different approach to the traditional college degree (and overwhelming debt)? Two-year colleges like Ensign College overcome many of the hurdles created by traditional four-year schools, by providing real-life skills and experience quickly and affordably.

Ensign College offers diverse certificates and degrees that will prepare you for competitive, entry-level work as soon as you graduate—for a fraction of the cost at a standard 4-year college. You’ll also gain marketable skills that enable you to start working in as little as one semester, so you can pay for school as you go. Check it out today!