By Peter Vouthas ’20
Recently, hearing about the extreme student debt load carried by many young adults in our country has been inescapable. Major media outlets, celebrities, and politicians seem to be endlessly concerned about the financial well-being of America’s students. In addition, according to a Harvard poll, a majority of American citizens believe that student debt constitutes a significant issue facing the country.
Thus, we are forced to ask the question – Is college worth it? Even withstanding the current stress of the massive $1.5 trillion student debt load, college is still unquestionably the best option for a multitude of reasons.
According to Federal Reserve data, the average person with a bachelor’s degree earns $76,000 per year, while the average person with only a high-school diploma makes just $45,000 — a difference of $33,000. Over the lifetime of an average worker, the results become even more pronounced, as college graduates average $1.4 million more in earnings than the typical high school graduate.
It would be difficult to accrue student loans totaling more than $1.4 million over a person’s lifetime. In fact, according to the Department of Education, the average student ends up paying around $35,000 on loans over his or her lifetime. That is, plausibly, why a series of polls conducted in March 2019 found that 61% of adults said that even based on their “current financial situation,” taking out student loans was worth it. Even with the burden of these loans, most consider college to be a financially responsible decision that will provide future economic payoff.
A combination of a higher education and increased salaries leads to a better standard of living for college graduates when compared to high-school ones. A study by Professor Phillip Trostel found that college graduates report having “good” or “very good” health 44 % more frequently than their non-graduate peers do.
Furthermore, college graduates are nearly four times less likely than high-school graduates to smoke and are significantly more likely to exercise, wear a seatbelt, maintain a healthy weight, and regularly see a doctor. Consequently, college graduates have a life expectancy around seven years longer than those who hold a high-school diploma or less.
College graduates are also nearly five times less likely to be jailed or imprisoned than those who have no college experience. Not only does this result in positive returns for the individual, but also for society. The Washington Examiner has reported that even accounting for government investment in higher education, college graduates generate $613,000 in additional taxes and reduced government spending when compared to those who have earned only a high-school diploma. These additional funds can be used to fund a myriad of policies, such as tax cuts, welfare programs, or debt repayment.
According to the Department of Labor, in 2015, when the unemployment rate for 25-34-year-olds with at least a bachelor’s degree was 2.6%, there were 8.1% of high school graduates in the same age range were unemployed. Clearly, going to college gives a person irrevocable skills and qualifications.
In the years following the Great Recession, this benefit only has intensified. Georgetown University research has shown that of the 2.9 million new, high-income jobs added during the first five years following the Great Recession, 2.8 million went to those with a bachelor’s degree.
While students will generally fare better by having a college education, it is essential to acknowledge that they have to make responsible decisions in order to reap the reward.
First, if they are worried about money, students should consider a state school over a private school. Sometimes, the cost of an entire four-year education at a public university can be equivalent to one year at a private institution. In addition, prospective college applicants should also strive to get as much financial aid as possible. While this may mean not accepting an offer from a top-tier school, students should not worry. Harvard research has shown that students in the top percentiles at low-tier schools fare better economically than the students at the bottom percentiles in their top-tier peers. Also, it is crucial to have a loan repayment strategy which places paying off student debt as a graduate’s top financial priority.
Lastly, it is vital to get a marketable education. People who major in fields with high earnings straight out of college, such as finance and engineering, will have more leeway with how much they can take out in loans. They will also have a higher return on investment than people who works in many other fields.
Although the sticker price may scare many Americans away from college, it is objectively the smarter long-term decision in nearly all situations.