Should You Treat Your College Education as a Commodity?

Can you measure the value of your college education through data points like graduation rates and average graduate salaries? A college education has a value that goes well beyond numbers, and much of that value is based on what the student puts into it. However, student debt levels have also risen to an alarming level, forcing smart buyers of education to ask some tough questions.

Your Education is an Investment

Your house is not just a commodity to you. It is a home and an investment in your future. Yet, in order to purchase a home you have to make many complicated financial decisions. Purchasing a home that is too large or too small, in the wrong location, or that is way out of your price range could have drastic consequences years down the road. You can purchase a fixer-upper and invest a lot of time into it to increase the value. Or you can purchase a mansion and completely trash it. Much depends on you as the purchaser to protect your long-term investment.

In a similar way, education is more than a commodity. The end result of your education will depend on how much you put into it. But as tuition prices continue to soar, students have had to analyze their higher education decisions in much the same way as a home-buyer has to analyze the housing market. Students have had to be wiser than ever when making the decision about where to invest their dollars.

Hunter Rawlings makes some great points in his recent article “College is not a commodity. Stop treating it like one." In it he states…

If we are going to treat college as a commodity, and an expensive one at that, we should at least grasp the essence of its economic nature. Unlike a car, college requires the “buyer” to do most of the work to obtain its value. The value of a degree depends more on the student’s input than on the college’s curriculum. I know this because I have seen excellent students get great educations at average colleges, and unmotivated students get poor educations at excellent colleges. And I have taught classes which my students made great through their efforts, and classes which my students made average or worse through their lack of effort.

It’s true that a lot of the outcomes of an education depend on what you put into it. A bright student can be just as successful, or even more successful, graduating from Harvard or Princeton as they can be graduating from the University of Arizona, or the University of Delaware. Finding a college where you're a great fit and where your strengths can shine is way more important than how that school fares in rankings.

The Elephant in the Room

The Elephant in the Room: Students are Being Priced Out of Reaching Their Dreams
The Elephant in the Room: Students are Being Priced Out of Reaching Their Dreams

What we see now are students who are getting priced out of their dream of an education. Students go to college to learn, but also because they've been sold the promise of being able to get a great job, to provide for a family, and to afford a higher standard of living. Now they've come to a point where they have to get into so much debt to afford their college education it puts all their other dreams in jeopardy.

The amount of student debt in this country has topped 1.2 trillion dollars. Students burdened with debt delay other milestones like purchasing a car, home, or starting a family. Students are being forced into analyzing a college education as if it were a commodity because it has become so expensive. A smart student knows their decisions about their education have the potential to impact the rest of their life.

Colleges for years have benefited from selling the dream of a higher standard of life. And they have raised their prices as high as they can, knowing that the flow of government dollars in the form of student loans will mean students continue to pay. Students are becoming wiser though. They know they don't want to put themselves into a financial position where their future is impaired. They risk being burdened for life with a debt they can't shake even through bankruptcy.

The Need for Change

College used to be a place where students went to experiment, change majors multiple times and take a long path to graduation. The reality today is that college is just too expensive to afford students that luxury. Students are taking much longer than four years to cross the finish line, and many are dropping out along the way, unable to graduate at all. Perhaps they were sold a dream that wasn’t right for them in the first place. This needs to change.

We propose something different. We propose helping students find their fit faster so they’ll be excited from day one of their education rather than spending years floundering in an expensive Petri dish. If students can identify their strengths and pursue them early, they’ll be able to find the right college and the right subjects to study that set them up for success. Combine that with an education that’s affordable and you can have a future to really be excited about.

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