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Is a Four-Year Degree Worth the Investment?

Approximately 1.9 million college students will be earning their Bachelor’s degree this year. – Photo by Francois Kilchoer

By May S. Ruiz

The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that colleges and universities will award 1.9 million Bachelor’s degrees this month. And the graduation season is a timely opportunity to make an assessment of how much it costs to get a four-year degree, what it means to have one, and what good it does for all.

According to the College Board, during the 2017-2018 school year, in-state students paid an average of $9,970 on tuition and fees at a public university; out-of-state students paid $25,620. Students who attended private non-profit four-year colleges and universities paid an average of $34,740.

After factoring in transportation and living expenses, a four-year degree at a public school costs an in-state student about $83,080 while an out-of-state student pays $145,680; and a private non-profit college sets a student back approximately $187,800 for a four-year degree.

Many students have to borrow money to be able to pay for college and today over 44 million Americans hold a total of $1.4 trillion in student loan, according to the College Board.

The runaway costs of getting an undergraduate diploma, coupled with the astounding debt students take on before they even have a viable way of repaying it; have made many people question if the investment is really worth it.               

In September last year, NBC News and Wall Street Journal conducted a national survey of social trends among 1,200 adults. When asked if Americans agreed that a four-year degree ‘is worth the cost because people have a better chance to get a good job and earn more money over their lifetime,’ 49 percent concurred. However, 47 percent said a degree is not worth the cost ‘because people often graduate without specific job skills and with a large amount of debt to pay off.’

Those numbers varied from the findings of a CNBC survey in a June 2013 when 53 percent of Americans said a four-year degree is worth the cost, while 40 percent said it is not.

To help give perspective to the debate that’s now going on, I spoke with two Pasadena-area heads of school – Dr. Nafie of Clairbourn School, a pre-K to 8th grade independent school in San Gabriel, and Peter Bachmann of Flintridge Preparatory School, a 7th to 12th grade school; Myra McGovern, Vice-President of the National Association of Independent Schools; David Burge, President of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors; and Cynthia Shapiro, a respected Southland career coach.     

There is much evidence that a college degree remains the strongest financial investment a person can make, as voiced by all my respondents, and I am in total agreement with them. However, happiness and success aren’t predicated upon acquiring one. There are other ways of getting an education and making a living. And a fulfilling and satisfying life isn’t measured by one’s job title or how much wealth one has accumulated.

Our responsibility as parents and educators is to guide our children to make education choices based on their dreams and passions because it is by following those, and succeeding in them, that they can do the most good for themselves and, hopefully, for the world.

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