College Degree: A good investment or a waste of money?

According to a study by The Pew Research Center, 75 percent of Americans think college is no longer affordable.  Over the past 25 years, tuition costs have increased more than 400 percent; much higher than regular inflation.  A student pursuing a bachelor's degree at an in-state four year school and living on campus will need to budget more than $20,000 a year, according to CollegeBoard.com.  And, that number is expected to continue to increase. 

(Source: InflationData.com)

So the question becomes – Is it worth it?

There is no arguing the cost of a college education – it is an expensive investment.  However, a college degree is still a big incentive and should be carefully considered.  More than 60 percent of professional jobs in American require a degree.  According to the Census Bureau, the average salary for a 25 year old with a bachelor’s degree is $45,400, compared with $25,900 for a high school graduate.  Over an adult’s working life, someone with a B.A. earns an average of $2.1 million, compared with $1.2 million for high school graduates. Those with a master’s degree earned about $55,641 or $2.5 million over a lifetime. 

With the cost of education continuing to increase, it’s important for students to understand their options.  The following are a few important considerations when preparing to pay for college.   

Choose the right school.  According to a recent study by Princeton, there is a big misconception that a “good” school will earn a better return on your investment.  The study notes that for equally talented students, the choice of college does not award a long-term economic benefit. Ten to twenty years after graduation, the income level for a state university graduate is roughly equal to their Ivy League peers.

Look for scholarships. Scholarships are the best resources because essentially they offer free money.  There are several online sources to find great scholarships, such as FastWeb, FinAid, the College Board, and the Financial Aid Resource Center. These websites offer a variety of scholarships based on need, merit, academics, affiliations, and career aspirations.

Apply for federal grants. Grants are another great way to pay for college because it is also free money. To secure federal grants, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Finally, consider student loans as a last resort. If you take out a student loan, opt for a subsidized loan. The government pays the interest on these loans until after graduation or no longer in attendance.  For more information and resources regarding tuition cost and payment, visit FASFA.ed.gov.

Tanisha (Warner) Smith is a former communications manager at MMI.

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