Is a college degree worth what it costs?

College is exorbitantly expensive. And it’s getting worse all the time. Currently, the average cost for one year (tuition and fees) at a private college is $30,094. At a public college or university it’s approximately $9,000 a year for in-state residents and over $22,000 a year for out-of-state residents.

With no scholarships or grants, a four year degree can leave you with somewhere between $36,000 and $120,000 in debt.

That’s an insanely deep hole in which to start out your adult life. Does it make sense to spend so much money on a degree that doesn’t guarantee you much of anything?

As part of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling's (NFCC) 2014 Financial Literacy Survey, participants were asked if they believe that their college education was a good investment. By a 2-to-1 margin, respondents believed that their college education was a good investment, and the numbers make it pretty clear why.

The truth is that there’s a massive (and growing) economic gap between those with a college degree and those without. Although it isn’t easy for today’s college graduates to find a job in their chosen field, it’s even harder to find work without a degree.

Last year, the unemployment rate for college graduates was around 4 percent – for non-graduates it was nearly twice as high, at closer to 7.5 percent.

For those who are employed, a college degree makes a staggering difference in earning ability. According to findings from the Economic Policy Institute in Washington D.C., in 2013, the average American with a four year degree made 98 percent more than the average American without a degree.

Simply put: with a four year college degree you double your likelihood of being employed and double your earning potential.

Which means that a college education is nearly mandatory in order to find satisfactory work with satisfactory wages. But what about the debt? Is that mandatory as well?

Of course it’s possible to make it through college without any student loan debt, but it’s difficult. It takes a lot of work and a lot of planning. There are grants and scholarships available. Parents, guardians, and relatives can set-up special long-term savings accounts for young children well in advance of college. You can work full or part-time while attending classes.

Your best bet is always to simply understand all of your options and create a plan that works for you. Start early. Visit for tons of helpful planning materials. And if you’ve already got student loans – whether you’ve made a payment or not – understand how they work and what your options are. MMI offers Student Loan Counseling for just that purpose.

The more you know, the more you plan, the easier it will be to handle the debt that comes with a college education.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.