I like to think of my investment in my college education in this way:
- Job Opportunities
- Overall Experience
I’ll talk about each benefit individually and apply the costs to each one, then I’ll try to summarize and come to a conclusion. This opinion is obviously based on my personal experience with higher education and everyone’s experience will be different so I’ll try to speak to the “Average” as often as possible.
Benefit 1 – Education
“Education is the key to unlocking the golden door of freedom.” – George Washington Carver
From the moment we are born to the last moment of our existence we are learning. Whether it be through personal experience, studying or the teachings of others; we are always either consciously or subconsciously educating ourselves.
There are many ways to gain information (reading, watching online videos, taking classes, etc.) but to get a good “education” you are best served by interacting with others who are trained in your area of interest and can help you learn not only facts, but also a new way of thinking along the way. There are ways of doing this outside of college but from what I can tell, the college format is still the best way to interact directly with the professor and other students.
To me, education itself is hard to put a monetary value on. Not only do we benefit as individuals from increased knowledge but when we learn something new and are able to apply it in a way that helps others, the overall benefits may not be realized for generations to come. Try putting a value on the education Einstein received… we are still realizing new improvements from the shoulders of his education.
From a time perspective, I feel that 4 years of your life is a small price to pay. Yes, there may be quicker ways to learn the information but you are not getting the same “education” by reading an online article or even watching an online class.
Benefit 2 – Job Opportunities
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confusious
Our society has deemed a college education as the method of choice when it comes to training our professionals in many fields such as Engineering, Law, Medicine and others. It may not always make sense, but the fact is there are many jobs in this country that you simply can not get if you don’t have a degree to your name from some sort of university. By simply holding a degree in your name you immediately open yourself to the possibility of many jobs that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Obviously there are countless jobs out there that don’t require a degree, and if your interests are in a field that doesn’t require a degree than going to college is probably a waste in terms of increased opportunity but the data says that people with a job that requires a degree end up making more money over their lifetime than those who don’t. So let’s look at that data and see if it really is worth the cost…
Tuition and Fees for one year at an in-state public school was on average $2,405 (2014 dollars) back in 1980 and is currently $9,139. Costs are rising quickly but is it still worth the extra cost to get the degree?
The average cost for a full four year degree (assuming you graduate in 4 years) is $81,587, and the average increase in lifetime earnings for holding a degree vs. only a high school diploma is $900k. Based on this data, it seems like a no brainer sweet deal. If you average that money out over the course of your lifetime, that’s an extra $16,667 per year if you graduate at age 25 and live to be 79. Now, there are a lot of other factors that need to come into play like room & board, interest on student loans, books, etc. but I don’t feel like dedicating a month to this one post. The point is, on average from a strictly financial return perspective, a college education IS worth the price if you’re happy with a 20% annual return on your money.
From a time perspective, giving up 4 years worth of salary at a lesser paying job to take on debt still ends up with you in the positive over the long haul.
Benefit 3 – Relationships
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” – Anais Nin
When you’re at college, whether it be a huge state school campus or a small satellite campus, you end up meeting many people who you would have never come across otherwise. Those people introduce you to other people who know other people who you might end up marrying some day. That’s what happened to me and it can happen to you too! But seriously, the friendships you gain in college are more likely to be based on common interests than ones from your younger years which often times are the product of simply being in the same geographical area. Having strong friendships and intimate relationships is one of the key aspects of being human. They joys of just spending countless hours with another person you can laugh and play with are indescribable.
Obviously there are many other ways to meet people and make friends, but in my mind there is no price you can put on the friendships you gain by spending time at a university.
Benefit 4 – Overall Experience
“Be brave. Take Risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” – Paulo Coelho
I know everyone comes out of college with a different experience so this point is fully focused on me. I was able to move to Florida, live on the beach, spend a summer at Oxford in England, watch the last space shuttle launch from Kennedy Space Center and go on discounted Spring Break Cruises and trips to Disney and Universal all because I went to college. Most of my college career, I was able to sleep in, exercise much more than I am able to now and spend my summers and holidays with my family and friends. I was able to play on multiple intramural teams and there are fraternities and countless clubs that can be joined. Beyond what I learned in the classroom while I was at college, I learned a lot more about myself and about life during my years at school. I become more independent and learned how to take care of myself while mommy and daddy where over 1,000 miles away. Moving to a new school in a different state where you know a total of 0 people is a big and scary experience for an 18 year old but it helped me grow into the person I am today.
Again, hard to put a value on experience but I can say with complete certainty that the benefits of my experiences far outweighed the costs.
Many people believe that our current higher education system in America is broken. We now look at a college diploma as a simple stamp you get to press on your resume to show people you are qualified to do a job, but the true goal of obtaining a college education is to dig deeply into a specific field of study and not only learn the facts of that specialty but also learn how to question those facts and discover new ways and methods of doing things that will help our society move forward into the future. The costs may continue to rise higher and higher and I strongly believe that college should be more affordable for more people, but even with the high costs of higher education, I still believe that as a whole, a college education is indeed worth the price.