As the costs of a college education continues to rise, it may be tempting to ask if it is still worth it to get a degree. We all have heard stories of those that get a degree yet still struggle in the job market with their newly acquired student loans in tow. A college degree is obviously valuable but very few things are worth an infinite price. The question is now, where is that break even point and have we reached it yet?
Let’s start with the cost of a college degree. Over the last few years, the average cost of a year of in-state college, including room and board, was about $24,000. That number is about $48,000 for a private university. And for the average University student, it takes four and a half to five years to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. That puts the average cost of a bachelor’s degree well above $100,000, not to mention the lost income during that time, as well as the interest they will owe on their student loans.
Now let’s talk about what college provides. After graduating, the average worker with a bachelor’s degree makes $30,000 more than their counterparts with only a high school diploma. Those with a masters make another $20,000 above that on average. Employment rates are significantly higher for college grads as well, not to mention all of the non-financial benefits that they get from their education.
According to these numbers, even with the rising costs of education, this is still a great return on investment. The problem however, is that all majors are not created equal. Some majors, such as engineering and data analytics, skew all the results with their high salaries after graduation. Other majors, such as some liberal arts degrees, struggle to find employment that requires their specific degree and skills. Obviously there is much more to picking a major then the potential salary but it can be helpful to know that all degrees are not created equal.
It is also important to note that while student loans can be a helpful tool to get through school, there are many opportunities to reduce the cost of education and reduce the need for loans. Scholarships and grants can make a huge difference especially due to the fact that you don’t have to pay these back. Every year the government pays out 500 billion in federal grants to college students. Oftentimes, these grants are needs based for those with lower incomes.
Community college can be a great option as well to keep the costs of college down. It is possible to attain a bachelors from a regular 4-year institution by taking the first two years at a community college and then transferring those credits. Depending on the specific schools, community college can be less than ⅓ of the cost of a University.
While college still makes a lot of sense financially, we have to remember that it is not the only option available. Trade schools are becoming an increasingly more attractive option. Especially in the recent years, we are seeing the demand for the trades increase which means that the salaries are following suit.
Picking a degree or a trade and subsequently a career is definitely not just about the money, but it is one piece of the puzzle. It is important to weigh all the costs and benefits of every route to see what makes sense for you and your situation. Your job often takes up a huge portion of your life so making an informed decision today will really pay off down the road.
Dallen Haws is a personal finance and business enthusiast, ASU grad (Fear the Fork!), co-founder and financial planner at Haws Financial Planning.