By the time I graduate from Oswego State, I will have accumulated $44,000 in federal loans. As an independent student I qualify for more loans than most students and as an out-of-state student I certainly need them. I often find myself worrying about whether the degree I’m getting out of this massive debt will be worth the cost, as do many college students. Well, I have good news for you: it is. At least for now.
Our generation was told that our future would consist of flipping burgers at the local fast food joint unless we got a college degree. With that promise came the expectation that once we have the college degree we’ll get jobs, yet jobs seem to be very hard to come by these days. More than a few friends of mine that graduated from Oswego State last year have returned as teaching assistants or in pursuit of another degree after feeling out the job market. So how can I say that college still has good value?
While it’s true that college costs have been increasing at a faster rate than household income and inflation, the benefits are still immense. College graduates earn around $28,600 more per year than those who only have high school diplomas. Although one can’t expect to earn that entire premium as soon as one graduates, over a period of 40 years one will earn $1,144,000 more than those without college degrees. Of course, this amount averages in everyone who gets bachelor’s degrees, regardless of what those degrees were, which college they came from or whether they followed up with further degrees. Call it what you will, but someone with a B.S. in finance followed by a Masters in business administration from Yale University will probably earn more than your average art education major from any state school.
So while the average Oswego State 2010 graduate owed $25,931 in student loans, and I’ll probably owe significantly more than that, the benefits over a lifetime (over a $1 million) still outweigh the costs immensely.
So why are people literally rioting in the streets about student loans? Well they do have a right to be angry. While college is still a good investment, it is widely perceived to be losing its value. A number of factors are contributing to this. First of all, college has never been in higher demand. This is partially due to the recession driving some long-term unemployed people to get their degrees, as well as the growing belief that college is necessary to avoid a life of poverty. Combined with significant government aid for tuition that makes students less sensitive to tuition increases, these factors combine to make it very profitable for schools to raise tuition. And they have done that. Since 1980, average tuition rates at 4-year universities have increased by over 600 percent. Even after accounting for inflation, tuition rates have more than doubled.
While President Obama has promised some relief from federal loans for students, the question remains as to whether making college more affordable actually helps students, or whether it just gives colleges another excuse to raise its prices again.