Yes! Even given the amount of debt students and their families incur and the high rate of under and unemployed recent college graduates (44% of college students are in jobs that don’t require a college degree), a college degree is worth it:
- While unemployment for adults who never went to college is flat, for those with some college or an associate’s degree is back to around its pre-recession levels; for those with a BA or better, it has improved more.
- Earnings of workers with a four-year college education remain nearly twice of those who only have high school:
- High school, no college: average earnings about $28,652/year
- Some college, no degree: average earnings about $32,036/year
- College grad: average earnings about $49,648/year, perhaps more if the student later gets an advanced degree.
Another study, by the Department of Labor, reported by the NY Times, shows that in 2012, compared to people without a college degree, graduates of a two-year college earned almost $7,000/year more on average. Four-year college degree made about $15,000 over the associate degree, and a professional degree, almost $35,000 more than a four-year college degree. As Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post, points out, over a 30-year working life, this difference can really add up
These, of course, are averages. Unemployment is lowest for students who graduated from a pre-professional field, hard science or engineering, but unemployment for graduates of the humanities and liberal arts is roughly comparable to computer & math, psychology & social work and social sciences majors. On average, however, salaries are lower for students in the humanities and liberal arts relative to all other fields.
And yet … students often end college with a large debt. There are many reasons: college is expensive; families have fewer resources due to the economic crisis; community colleges often lack the funds research universities have. Emily Chertoff, of The Atlantic, points out that Princeton receives over $50,000 per student per year in federal subsidies, but the College of New Jersey receives only $1,600. Dropping out is another important cause of debt: dropouts have much greater difficulty paying their debts than students who finish, especially if they don’t get counseling from school about debt repayment options. This is especially true if students also acquire family and other financial responsibilities very soon after dropping out or graduating, or if they end up in areas with high unemployment rates. Not finishing is financially very risky, as Jordan Weissman of The Atlantic has pointed out; this should be an incentive to stay on track and finish as well as to prepare academically and financially before starting college.
How to keep debt down?
USA Today’s mother-daughter team July and Lindsey Mayfield suggest:
- Choose an in-state college
- Look for scholarships—not only large ones, but also local and small ones and scholarships for students with specific interests, for strong leaders or for service-minded students. For example, in 15 years a $750 scholarship would save you about $1,047 just in interests (and that if you always pay on time!).
- Stay on track – avoid cost overruns of extra semesters (or years!).
- Get counseling from the school about debt repayment options, such as income-based programs.
- If you’re a good student, investigate private research universities—often they have more money to offer scholarships than community or public institutions.
The Lind says also suggest small ways to save that can add up:
- Prioritize – avoid a huge shopping run before leaving. Bring the basics and make a list of what you really need later. Once you’re there you may realize you don’t need them.
- Make the most of your meal plan – don’t waste meals! Investigate things like take-away lunches from dining halls.
- Identify local student discounts.
- Skimp on the small stuff, like school supplies
- Know when to say no to apparel or gadgets you love.
Attending community college during freshman year, which is often the most expensive due to required meal plans, on-campus housing and student fees.
If you plan to transfer to a four-year degree, carefully research and plan ahead of time to find an institution that will provide adequate financial and academic support, like AmherstCollege has done for the past six years. It is important to find colleges that have lower tuition and fees and offer adequate aid packages. At the same time, students and their families should beware of institutions that are “unranked” – it often means their rank was so low it isn’t published.
Internships also can help a student keep debt down, and will be useful after graduation, as many employers want a degree and experience. Students can learn about the pros and cons of industry as well as about their own strengths and weaknesses. For students in the sciences, REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates), though competitive, can be good sources of experience and income.
Consider also other cheap, creative, convenient alternatives or complements to a traditional college, such as:
- Vocational trainings
- MOOCS and other online forms or education
- Competency based degrees (Western Governors Univ, private online)
- Take advantage of free online courses offered by some of the best universities.
These links are also available at the LCA website,
Choosing a College
College Navigator – allows you to search by location, program, or degree offerings, alone or in combination (use More Search Options) and compare information on tuition. Has links on Preparing for your Education and Financial Aid.
Best Colleges Rankings and Lists
Schools Ranked by Financial Aid
Public College Rankings, including Need Based Aid and Debt at Graduation
Private College Rankings, including Need Based Aid and Debt at Graduation
150 Best Value Colleges for 2012
College Rankings: Tuition and Financial Aid
7 Steps to Find a Great, Affordable College
Choosing a Major
Profiles of occupations and descriptions of What They Do, Work Environment, How to Become One, Pay, and more.
25 College Diplomas With the Highest Pay
Salary Increase By Major
What is the ROI (return on investment) of your college degree?
Eight College Degrees with the Worst Return on Investment
Scholarships for Hispanics/Latinos
Hispanic Scholarship Fund
Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)National Educational Service Centers
Hispanic Coaliton New York
Grants, Scholarships and More
Scholarships.com – you do not have to register—find the names of scholarships here, then google them.
Top Notch Free Online Courses