Is College Worth It?

In order to be happy, successful, and get a good-paying job, you must go to college.

Parents and high school guidance counselors have touted these words of wisdom to young people for decades. And for some students, this message is undoubtedly accurate. But for many others, the walloping debt that comes with a degree makes going to college simply not worth it.

Tuition for public and private colleges has ballooned by 500% over the last 30 years, and only continues to go up. Private and public colleges cost an average of $29,000 and $21,706 per year, respectively. Many schools like Tufts University and Bates College will set the family back by over twice that amount. These ridiculously fat price tags have lead to the average college graduate walking away with about $27,000 in student loan debt.

But, at least grads can pay off their debt quickly, since they will land a good job thanks to their college degree. Right?

Not quite. As of last year, 53% of recent college graduates were jobless or underemployed.

News sources like NBC and CNN dispense headlines like “Thanks to rising tuition and a tough job market, college seniors graduated with $27,000 in debt.” Sure, the job market is tough, but no one ever talks about government’s role in exorbitant tuition fees and colossal student debts.

Government student loans and grants were created to help low income families afford college. But now, almost 60% of college students borrow money from the government to pay for their education. As usual, a government program that started with good intentions has done more harm than good. Essentially, any student can qualify for as much money as they need to cover their education, no matter how high the tuition is. This enables colleges to continue to increase tuition, because no matter what they charge, students will always be able to finance it.

Washington bureaucrats have been pushing unlimited government student loans for years. President Obama says this student entitlement money is necessary to ensure that young people are “getting the education they need.”

Nonsense. The free market, without government aid, would drive college prices down and make it more affordable for everyone. By making government student loans unlimited and over-accessible, colleges have no incentive to compete by lowering tuition. If most students paid their own way, schools would be forced to lower tuition to remain competitive and attract the best, brightest young people.

If government got out of the way, college costs would be lower, and people would stop asking, “Is a degree worth the expense?

As it stands now, college is clearly not worth the debt for many young people. 14% of waiters and 16.5% of bartenders in the US have a bachelor’s degree. And 85% of students move back in with Mom and Dad after graduation.

NewKristinTateICONWorse still, most colleges offer expensive degrees that provide little in the way of job prospects. The job opportunities for Gender Studies and Art History majors, for example, are far fewer than the number of students pursuing these degrees. Many of these graduates are in for a rude awakening upon graduation when they realize their skills are not in high demand in today’s economy.

Yet for some reason, high school guidance counselors make students feel as though a bachelor’s degree is a golden ticket to prosperity. High schoolers are made to feel like failures if they don’t enroll in college, when in reality, there are plenty of viable alternatives. Vocational and trade schools are an acceptable, more affordable option in many cases. Community colleges are also very underrated, and allow students to explore diverse subject areas without going broke.

Until Washington stops indirectly inflating the price of college tuition, many degrees are simply not worth the cost. But hey, at least the 85% of students who end up back at home after graduation get to enjoy Mom’s lasagna once again!

Kristin Tate | Emerson College | @KristinBTate

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28 Responses

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  1. Drew
    Aug 16, 2013 - 04:08 AM

    It doesn’t make sense to say that student loans exasperate tuition fees. They mostly cap out at 10 grand a year including the Pell Grant… most annual costs for a 4 year university be them public or private are generally thousands of dollars more than that (when taking into account the least expensive schools). If your free market fundamentalist views were correct than the “invisible hand” should have corrected the issue at the point whereby student loans and the Pell Grant fail to cover the entire cost of annual enrollment, or at least left it at that baseline rate.

  2. Tracey S.
    Mar 01, 2013 - 02:50 PM

    You make an excellent point — great article Kristin!

  3. michelle m.
    Feb 28, 2013 - 05:26 AM

    Nice writing, Ms. Kristen. Many companies in a variety of industries, won’t hire unless the applicant is a college graduate. This puts pressure on the high school student who wants to work in a certain industry however, may not have the opportunity without a degree. And more industries are demanding degrees when years ago, college graduates were not required. So, does the high school student give up their dream job to pursue another vocation just because of debt or does the student go into debt in order to pursue the ultimate dream job? Thank you for opening an avenue of discussion between my HS senior who wants to attend college. I might try to talk him out of it if he’s going to move back home after graduation!

  4. Leo
    Feb 28, 2013 - 04:32 AM

    I really like how you turned the question of the educational value around to the expense part of the equation. Colleges spend all kinds outrageous capital to make campuses and dorm rooms more attractive and then raise their tuition because they have no money to pay staff. The Government responds by providing larger and more plentiful loans and in the end, the students end up with the debt. This bubble is just waiting to pop.

    • Steve T
      Feb 28, 2013 - 02:13 PM

      Exactly right, Leo. I’m taking my son on college tours this semester. Tuitions are just outrageous, over $50K per year for the schools we’re looking at. The dorms all look like the Taj Mahal, the gym facilities are spectacular, and the dining halls are better than 5 STAR restaurants. When I went to Cornell 30 years ago, I got a great education, and the dorms looked like concrete blocks. Those have all been removed now for what look like 5 star hotels. You’re right, it’s an enormous bubble ready to pop. But I’m sure Obama will provide even MORE loans and new government programs to naive students, thereby raising tuitions even further. It never stops!!!

  5. Jeff Fisher
    Feb 28, 2013 - 01:23 AM

    Excellent!! Dig deeper!

  6. Tammy
    Feb 28, 2013 - 12:51 AM

    My daughter has found this out the hard way. She graduated $80,000 in debt from student loans and because she could not find a job in her filed she is working at Macy’s for minimum wage. Barely able to afford her monthly loan payment.

  7. Ceecee
    Feb 27, 2013 - 08:43 PM

    Corruption and kickbacks to college and university officials have been rampant in the student loan business for decades and certainly not unique to the Obama administration. It was the G.W. Bush administration that exempted student loans from bankruptcy protection. Student loans cannot be refinanced, nor are there any statutes of limits. This coupled with the draconian collection methods afforded to loan companies by congress, almost guarantees default at some point during the life of the loan. It is this certainty of default that makes student loans so profitable for lenders.

    • Ceecee
      Feb 27, 2013 - 09:08 PM

      BTW a record number of colleges are privatizing and charging exorbitant tuitions. These newly private colleges are marketing to the veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars in targeting their G.I. Bill educational benefits. These private colleges (aka failure factories) are making a killing.

    • Mark
      Mar 04, 2013 - 04:20 PM

      So, G W Bush is to blame for the problems of higher education??

      When will the Libs put that arguement to rest?? 5 years from now? 10?? 50?? 100??

      People need to take responsibility for their own lives and stop blaming someone else.

  8. Steve T
    Feb 27, 2013 - 04:19 AM

    Great article, Kristin. You are right, the government screws up everything they touch… all in the name of “good intentions”. The government itself is largely responsible for the exorbitant cost of a college degree. Now they’re going to do the same thing to healthcare. I wish they would just get out of our lives. The Founding Fathers are spinning in their graves!!!

    • Jeff Fisher
      Feb 28, 2013 - 01:24 AM


  9. Bianca Colt
    Feb 27, 2013 - 12:32 AM

    There was a college student being interviewed on NPR radio today, talking about getting a degree in PUPPETEERING. I think he said he was at UCONN. Good luck with THAT!!!

    • KENNY
      Feb 27, 2013 - 04:45 AM

      YES, BIANCA!

      I heard the same story on NPR. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing (my cousin went to University of CT). I went on-line tonight and checked it out. Sure enough, UCONN offers a “Puppetry Arts Program”. LMAO. If my kid asked to get a degree in puppetry, I’d laugh him out of the house.

      No doubt many of those esteemed graduates were part of the Occupy Wall Street movement.


  10. Derrick
    Feb 26, 2013 - 08:22 PM

    By demanding all students go to college, our society has devalued the college degree. I cannot count the number of students I know who are just not college material and would have done better getting a trade degree. I agree with mark about study abroad. It heavily favors “experience” cross culturally and nothing much else. Schools should also lower the hurdles on useless requirements such as foreign languages for students who do not feel it to be necessary. I have taken 4 semesters of Spanish and still cannot fluently speak with natives and, therefore, do not feel confident enough to put “Spanish speaker” on my résumé. My situation with foreign language requirements is the norm for most students, so it really is a waste of credits.

  11. Christopher Rushlau
    Feb 26, 2013 - 07:57 PM

    How do you like college?

  12. RobG
    Feb 26, 2013 - 07:06 PM

    College is a joke unless you want to be a doctor, scientist or maybe a few other specialized degrees. If you have the drive and determination, you can learn much of what you need to know on your own, without the “help” from an overpriced college that continues to add to the number of “required” courses (liberal arts crap) that you will likely never use.

    I made a several attempts at college when I graduated high school in 1986. I hated it just as much as I hated high school. Things moved too slowly and I was tired of other students asking questions that were answered five minutes prior. I gave up and joined the Air Force instead. Four years later, I coupled what I had learned (computers) with my own intense interest in the subject, and turned it into a career. First as a PC Support Tech, then a Network Tech, and then ultimately as a programmer, which I’ve been doing for sixteen years. I have no student loan debt and make very good money.. and if I had gotten into Java sooner, I could be making nearly double what I am now.

    My dad always told me that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to, and he’s right. I tell my 6yo daughter the same thing. And I tell anybody else who will listen. So, set aside your anxieties and fear of failure, and just DO it.

    • Ceecee
      Feb 27, 2013 - 07:23 PM

      That was 16 years ago, before H1B visas and outsourcing computer jobs to India became popular. Count yourself fortunate to still be working.

  13. Martel
    Feb 26, 2013 - 07:05 PM

    Don’t be surprised if pretty soon the dems start floating ideas for some sort of “student loan relief”. They know there isn’t any chance of it happening, but it’ll be a great way to reframe anyone on the right as uncaring.

    They’ll never consider the solutions you advocate. Universities are another interest group to them, ensuring that our kids all graduate from college leaning a leat a little to the left.

    • Bianca Colt
      Feb 27, 2013 - 12:30 AM

      UGH! Sad but true! This is AWFUL! Here come the Liberals offering student loan bailouts in return for more votes!

    • Steve T
      Feb 27, 2013 - 04:31 AM

      Hey, why not excuse all student loan debt. It’s only a trillion dollars or so. And it’s for a good cause. (Good Lord, we’re so screwed…)

  14. Pete Bennett
    Feb 26, 2013 - 06:00 PM

    I could not agree more with the authors points.

    I know two people with double doctorates who cannot find work.

    I know a man who can do anything with his hands, and made $120,000 net last year in his handyman business.

    I know entirely too many folks with advanced degrees who are working outside of their fields in jobs not requiring any degree whatever.

    Don’t get me wrong….I believe a good education is important for success in our work life. The question is what kind of education.

    Pete b

  15. Gavin
    Feb 26, 2013 - 05:19 PM

    Best article I’ve seen you write. As one of the few deciding that college debt may not be worth the degree, it’s still incredibly hard to find a decent job without a degree. I’ve been very lucky, but I feel for those who aren’t doing as well. I also think its really sad when I see or hear about somebody who just spent 80 grand and 4 years of their life to better themselves, just to find that the degree that they just worked their asses off to get isn’t actually gonna make them much more money. Hows that rocket ship comin?

  16. Mark
    Feb 26, 2013 - 05:14 PM

    Is College Worth It? In a word, “No”, and exactly for the reasons you state Kristin.

    What high school counselors should be pushing are Advanced Placement classes and vocational/trade schools.

    My oldest son, who is currently in his third year ar Minnesota, took seven AP classes in high school and will be able to cut nearly a full year off of his “college experience”.

    For my younger son, we are pushing a technical school. He doesn’t want to go to college for four years and I would rather him do something he enjoys. As a manager in the metal fabricating industry, I’ll hire every young machinist/maintenance techincian/tool-and-die maker I can lay my hands on. The average age of my employees in these trades is about 50 and getting older every year.

    Another worthless college program is Overseas Study. To me this is just a way to make a student take a vacation. It does nothing to enhance their job prospects after graduation (and as a hiring manager, I don’t care if they went overseas or not).

    Kristin, a very good commentary. I hope you are following your own advice.



    • Steve T
      Feb 27, 2013 - 04:35 AM

      Thanks for your input, Mark. My son wants to study abroad (or was he telling me he wants to study a broad? ) From what you’re telling me, it’s a big waste of money. Thanks for the advice (and for confirming my suspicions…)

      • Chelle
        Mar 20, 2013 - 03:12 PM

        Depending on what he wants to do with it, its not a waste. For example, its not a waste for a future French teacher to study in France. Its not a waste for someone who wants to be a politican to learn about another culture (since our country is home to a lot of cultures and politicans often work with other heads of states.)

        Yea, a hiring manager for say a factory isn’t going to see value in an employee who studied overseas. For a company that is international, like say a lot of Fortune 500 companies are, they may see the value. A social media company would see the value since they cater to people all over.

        Taking the advice of one internet commenter for no doubts hires for one specific field is kind of silly.


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