A recent article from the NY Times states definitively that college is still worth it, based on the substantial income gains that college graduates enjoy compared to non-graduates. Granted, the recent increase in the wage gap seems to be more so because wages for high-school grads have stagnated rather than any great leap in wages for college grads. According to the data, the average hourly wage for college grads has only risen 1% in the past decade! However, the gap is still there and it is significant. Employers are still hiring and paying college graduates, proving that demand still exists. While not a guarantee of success, college continues to provide a path to the middle-class for many.
However, as we’ve pointed out before, not every student who attends college will actually graduate. And the economic gains cited in this study only apply to graduates.
This is a very real concern for many students. The latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics state that the average four-year graduation rate for U.S. colleges is only 44%, and the six-year graduation rate is only 76%. This means that a quarter of first-time degree seekers are unable to complete their degree in six years! Every extra year spent in college means more money spent on classes, less money earned through full-time work, and more debt added to a student’s burden.
Not only that, but choice of major can have extreme impact on future salaries. For example, a degree in Petroleum Engineering may land you with a starting salary of $89,000, while a degree in Social Work only has an average starting salary of $32,000. We believe a student should study what they are passionate about, but they should also make sure their eyes are opened to the risks of assuming a heavy debt burden to pursue a low-paying career.
So, is college worth it? A better answer is “it depends”. It depends on whether you find a college that's a good fit and affordable for you. It depends if you choose a major that interest you and provides you with good job prospects after graduation. There are many different ways to choose a college that’s a good fit, and students will see the best return on investment by determining what it is in a college that matters most to them, and making an informed decision.