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Is College Still Worth It?

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #101, 2011.

Is college still a financially viable option?
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Mary Pride

Even ten years ago, you and I most likely would not have been asking this question. But times have changed.
For every one of the traditional advantages of a college degree (upward mobility, meeting a compatible spouse, greater lifetime earnings), there now exists a corresponding potential disadvantage (lifelong financial debt burden, drifting into the college “hookup” culture, and becoming overqualified for the fewer available jobs in tough economic times).
On top of that, the actual value of many college courses is now suspect. Political correctness has taken a heavy toll. While most parents prefer students to learn the classic Western liberal arts, along with courses that will qualify them for a job, an increasing number of professors see their true calling as converting students to their political and spiritual positions (especially new age beliefs and atheism).
Meanwhile, American kids are signing up for easier majors and studying less. According to a USA Today article of January 18, “Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago . . . 35% of students report spending five or fewer hours per week studying alone.” And “50% said they never took a class in a typical semester where they wrote more than 20 pages; 32% never took a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.”
A report “based on transcripts and surveys of more than 3,000 full-time traditional-age students on 29 campuses nationwide, along with their results on the Collegiate Learning Assessment” found that “after two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning.”
If that’s not enough, on the “Whoa! Look how much it costs!” side, here are 11 frightening facts from an article entitled “Is College Worth It?” that I found on the admittedly pessimistic website EndOfTheAmericanDream.com. Please note that the article includes links that document every one of the statements below:
#1 According to the Student Loan Debt Clock, total student loan debt in the United States will surpass the 1 trillion dollar mark in early 2012.
#2 Total student loan debt in the United States is increasing by approximately $2,854 every single second.
#3 The average college student now leaves school with $24,000 in student loan debt.
#4 Approximately two-thirds of all college students graduate with student loans.
#5 The total amount of student loan debt in the United States now exceeds the total amount of credit card debt in the United States.
#6 Over the past 25 years, the cost of college tuition has increased at an average rate that is approximately 6% higher than the general rate of inflation.
#7 Back in 1952, a full year of tuition at Harvard was only $600. Today, it is $35,568.
#8 Average yearly tuition at U.S. private universities is now up to $27,293. That has increased by 29% in just the past five years.
#9 The cost of college textbooks has tripled over the past decade.
#10 Since 1978, the cost of college tuition in the United States has gone up by over 900 percent.
#11 One survey found that 23 percent of college students use credit cards to pay for tuition or fees.
So what should we do?
One big part of the problem is the way college financial aid is calculated. Basically, it’s designed to prevent students from working, saving, and paying for their own educations, as past generations did. Family savings and student earnings are taken “off the top” of any aid that would have been given. After the first $3,000 or so a student earns per year, up to 80% above that is subtracted directly from his or her potential aid. This makes it uneconomical for students to work their way through most colleges.
Community college is still a bargain, though, and the small tuition ($80–$120 per credit) means Pell grants are able to cover both books and tuition for families that qualify. For those that don’t, even summer jobs and part-time school-year jobs can cover this relatively miniscule amount. Thus, the “2+2” plan of first earning an AA degree from a community college and then transferring to a four-year college makes economic sense.
The best way to avoid student debt, if you spend all four years at a four-year college, is to get massive scholarships. Here, both academic preparation and matching yourself to the right college is vital. Once you’re in, work like a dog while everyone else parties, and pick up more scholarships.
The “right” college is not always the “top” college, by the way.
Our daughter, Magda, graduated from a “Tier 3” college, which cost her virtually nothing, thanks to her full-tuition scholarship and others she earned along the way. She is now in a fully funded Ph.D. program at a top university.
If Magda had started out at the prestigious university where she is now, instead of at the “lesser” school, she would have graduated with $25,000 or more of debt. I’m glad she did it her way!
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