Is College Worth the Cost?

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Updated: Jan 18, 2020
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Is College Worth the Cost? essay

For many years people have been questioning whether college education is worth the increasingly high price. Many studies have been conducted to determine the answer. Some scholars say college is not worth the inflated cost because it leaves them so deeply in debt. Their salaries are not sufficient in allowing them to pay off their debts or to continue making independent choices such as buying a house, getting married, and having children. But even though there are some struggles, researchers have found that for most degrees college is worth it.

Although college places a heavy financial burden on graduates, it is still better than the burden inflicted on those with only high school diplomas. A degree qualifies individuals for better wages, advancement opportunities, and lower unemployment rates. A college education is not the right choice for everyone, and it does not guarantee success, but it does enable individuals to have more opportunities. Therefore, it is still advantageous in creating higher chances of success for their future.

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Throughout history, college has fluctuated from something only the rich could access to something attainable for the poor. It has been a long, arduous process. Before and during the Great Depression not many young people had the opportunity to attend college because individuals funded their education through private loans and by working while attending school. A private loan is “a loan from a bank, credit union, or corporate lenders, such as Sallie Mae”. But it was challenging to get loans or hold a job so Benjamin Franklin “instituted aid to both public” and private universities and their students through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and the National Youth Administration”.

These administrations gave the government the responsibility to supply low income students with “work-studies” or jobs to help them afford education. Then during World War II, the government created the “Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (known as the G.I. Bill)”, resulting in incredibly high college admissions . This bill was created to give veterans the opportunity to attend college giving them a way to earn an income and help integrate them back into society .

This helped establish the view that college is for everyone. The Cold War also was responsible for advancing educational opportunities by financing education “from childhood through adulthood” and providing loan opportunities with “low interest rates”. Interest is a fee based upon the amount borrowed” that the borrower has to pay in addition to the amount they borrowed. The new types of loans offered are known as direct loans which is “a loan made directly to a student (or a student’s family) from the federal government”. This new type of loan was formed by the “National Defense Education Act” which was created to keep America competitive “in science and technology”.

It is important for our country to remain advanced technologically otherwise we would fall behind and not be able to support ourselves, defend ourselves in future wars, and make new discoveries. The government also began offering their own loans and continued the “work-study options”. Then “in 1980 Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island introduced the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant… [which] offered college money to low- and middle- income students that did not need to be repaid…[they were] known as Pell grants”.

America began creating more scholarships, grants, and loans to further the idea that college was for every single American. Many students who achieve high scholastics can even attend college for free. For example, even though Harvard’s tuition is $50,000 a year, students who make it into Harvard qualify for free tuition due to high scholastic achievement (Kelly 6-12).

The 1978 Middle Income Student Assistance Act was created to help those who could not afford to pay for college but were too wealthy to qualify for Pell Grants. The Higher Education Act Amendments of 1992 made it easier to get loans outside of the government or “unsubsidized loans”. President Barack Obama created the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act in 2009 which allowed for larger Pell Grants, lowered paycheck deductions on loans that are “income-based,” and created “debt forgiveness under certain conditions”. It also changed all “federal loans to direct loans”. This benefited students because private loans have much higher interest rates than government loans do. But as financial aid increased so did the cost of college. The government has tried to assist students by creating numerous funding aids throughout history. They have helped our country to make higher education attainable for all.

Throughout history the value of college education has seemed to increase and decrease. Currently, a college education does seem to be very valuable. College graduates qualify for better paying jobs . The Census Bureau shows that college degrees increase your earnings by two times what someone without it would earn (Kelly 6-12). J. D. Ho refers to a Georgetown University study that shows that a “college graduate will earn an average of $1 million more than” those with only a highschool diploma. Jaison R. Abel and Richard Dietz also find this fact to be true in their article, “Do the Benefits of College Still Outweigh the Costs?”. The Pew Research Center shows that a college graduates yearly income is “”$17,500″” higher than a high school graduates.

College graduates income have increased yearly by “$7,000” but the annual income “fell by… $3,000” for a high school graduate according to the Pew Research Center. So as you can see college has proven, statistically, to result in long term fiscal success even though there is a temporary financial strain (Point).

College degrees are becoming more necessary, in three years “187,000” more jobs now require college degrees. Jobs that accepted high school diplomas dropped “72%” to “32%” in the last forty-seven years . Making it even more difficult for high school graduates to find a job. Degrees also give individuals opportunities work up to higher positions (Scaliger 20). Employers are more likely to hire a college graduate with the relevant credentials because they are more knowledgeable in their specific subject area (“Point”). Jobs for college graduates tend to have better benefits such as better “health insurance and retirement plans”.

They also allow for better job security because their “unemployment rate… [is] below average”. A high school graduates rate of being without work is as high as “5.3%” and a college graduates is “2.8%” lower. The poverty percentages for college students are a third of what they are for high school graduates . A college degree is not only monetarily beneficial but it has also been proven to have health benefits. Those who graduate from college are ten percent healthier and are twice as likely to be active, which also causes them to have a lower rate of “obesity”. 

Both and Jennifer Koebele found that they tend to live “five” to “six” years longer. It was even shown that women with college degrees have lower chances of having underweight babies and they have “lower infant mortality rates” ( “College graduates tend to be happier about their jobs and careers,” according to the Pew Research Center (“Point”). Which makes sense when “72%” of college graduates “between the ages 25-32” with a bachelor’s degree are saying their education was worth the cost. In the article, “Point: The Positive Return of a College Education Justify Student Loan Debt,” the author points out that college students graduate with “expand[ed] … intellectual and social horizons” and find more enjoyment in their career because it was something they decided to pursue. It has even been shown that college graduates are much more likely to take part in community service activities (

College enables a person to become fully developed and well rounded. Education allows individuals to become cultured. It teaches us how to be independent thinkers, be “creative,” how to communicate, find solutions, work as a team, manage resources, and to work hard (Kelly 6-12; Koebele). These learned characteristics are an integral part of a flourishing society and if left without, a society would rapidly decline. College allows you to try new things, connect with people that have similar interests, and become introduced to different world views and ideas.

Students unconsciously “network with possible business connections” through internships, professors, and friendships throughout college ( This is convenient because when they apply for a position later on in life they may have an acquaintance already there or one of their acquaintances that are well known in the industry can give them a referral. giving College also allows for America to continue growing intellectually and stay advanced globally. Abel and Dietz collectively looked at the “opportunity cost” and the “direct cost” to determine if college was worth the cost mathematically.

They defined “opportunity cost” as the income you would be receiving if you were not attending college which is usually about “$96,000” for four years and “direct costs” as college expenses . They took into consideration that most of the time students do not normally pay the “sticker price” for college because of financial aid and scholarships. As they calculated everything out they found that college “for the average student, … remains a good investment”.

Many people have begun to believe that college is no longer worth the cost. Forty percent of college students begin college partially but leave before they finish (Kelly 6-12). These students are still required to pay for the years they attended with likely, the same job a highschool graduate holds . On the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau webpage they questioned people how they felt about their student debt. People’s responses included that their “balance never, ever seems to go down.”Another person stated that “79% of my gross monthly income” goes straight to loans. The last comment was from someone “70 years” old who is unable to go into retirement because they are still paying off their student loans (Scaliger 18).

When asked, only “38%” of college graduates would “strongly agree” that their college education was worth the time, effort, and money in comparison to the previous “50%” (Crabtree and Seymour 1). The incredible rate of inflation on tuition which leaves behind insurmountable debts is the main reason for people’s negativity regarding their education.. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education found, in 2008, there was a “439 percent” inflation in school tuition and loans. Students are paying “four times” what a student would have paid decades ago (Scaliger 21).

According to even though the cost for one year of schooling has increased by “109.6%” in the last thirty years, the average income has “only increased by 10.0%.” The high cost for college is resulting in a national loan debt that totals over “$1 trillion” which is second only to “mortgage” debts (Scalliger 18; Abel and Dietz 1; Crabtree and Seymour 1). Unlike any other type of debt, college debt does not go away even if you file for bankruptcy. Rates of people “defaulting” on their student loans is up to “12%” (Scaliger 18; Abel and Dietz 1). Students end up borrowing massive amounts of money that are paid off over many years.

But interest rates leave the student paying much more than the original tuition of, “$25,409” on average (Ho 1). “44 million Americans” have college degrees and have an average debt of “$37,172 in loan debt” ( It takes most graduates two decades to finish paying off their school bill (Ridner 64-66). This debt disables them from being able to accomplish general adult “life goals” such as “buying a house or starting a family” (“Counterpoint”). Only one out of every five young adults owns their own house. “More than two million” graduates with their “postgraduate” degree have had to move back in with their parents because they were unable to find work in their field of expertise (Scaliger 18). College debt is also postponing entrepreneurship, “postgraduate” school, marriage, and setting aside money for “”retirement”” (; Blumstyk 1; Scaliger 18).

Many graduates do not find their perfect job fresh out of college and so many are settling for jobs that are not in their field or interest. They are pushing off their career dreams in hopes of being able to pay off their loans quicker. One out of three college graduates are working in a position that only requires a high school diploma ( But these jobs are unfulfilling to them (“Counterpoint). “6.2%” of college graduates felt that their job did not suit them well ( Others are struggling to find jobs in general and wages have been in decline according to the Pew Research Center (Abel and Dietz 1-2).

Some may have considered their college education worth it if they felt like it had supplied them with the knowledge they needed. But graduates, at “30%” felt that college had not adequately prepared them. In fact, “36% of students” had no growth on the “Collegiate Learning Assessments after 4 years of college” ( Even though college is incredibly overpriced, students’ payments are probably furnishing the college with new buildings and fancy equipment rather than ensuring that they provide quality education (Ho 1; Kelly 6-12).

Many college classes get taught by the professor’s assistants and many teachers are being let go because the colleges can no longer afford them (Kelly 6-12). Due to the fact that college is a stressful, costly, and seemingly not as financially promising endeavor people are starting to lack confidence in its purpose especially since there are people such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg who have succeeded in life without a college degree (

Charles Scaliger points out the uselessness in getting a degree in fields such as hospitality management which earn incomes that cannot afford to pay off tens of thousands of dollars. People in these majors end up in debt for most of their life. He says that it is better to work from the ground up and actually experience each of the different positions to enable individuals to make more beneficial and purposeful decisions when you are in a position of power (Scaliger 19).

Adam Ozinek has become critical of the idea that a college degree is essential because there are many jobs with decent salaries that do not require one, such as “postal workers, police officers, real estate agents,” and many more (“Counterpoint”). So due to all of these reasons some people have chosen to not continue their education and critics have hypothesized that college education “is the next economic bubble, headed for a crash”(Kelly 6-12).

Many of the arguments against college education are true but are better than the comparison of only having a high school diploma. For example, although there are more college graduates moving back in with their parents than previously, six percent more high school graduates are living at home (Koebele). It is also true that there has been a decline in wages for those who have obtained college degrees. But it has been far worse for those with only high school diplomas. The decline in incomes is due to the Great Recession (“How the Great Recession Has Changed Life in America”).

It is to blame for the higher “poverty” rates of college graduates, “5.8%”. But even though college graduates are struggling, high school graduates are in much more dismal situations with poverty rates of “21.8%.” Over half of the nation is dealing with “unemployment, a cut in pay, a reduction in hours, or an involuntary move to part-time work.” So college cannot be to blame for the economy. It is proving to be safer to have a degree than not with the statistics (“The Rising Cost of Not Going to College”).

Soon there will be new job opportunities opening up for college graduates because half of all jobs will make it necessary to have some sort of degree within two years (Koebele). Scott Carlson mentions a study done by College Summit, “Smart Shoppers: The End of the “College for All” Debate?,” where they researched the idea that a bachelor’s degrees had become the de rigueur and no longer had value. But in fact since they have become common it is now necessary that individuals have a bachelor degree for most jobs disproving the previously stated idea (A25). The authors of “The Economics of B.A. Ambivalence: The Case of California Higher Education,”would agree that people have been overly optimistic about their college education.

Forgetting that most students do not graduate in four years and their starting salary is not going to be as high as the average salary. But the authors say that even though there are downsides to getting an education it is overall a “worthwhile investment” especially in regards to the “wage gap” which only seems to be increasing. But just like any other investment you should seriously contemplate all of the possible outcomes ( Carlson A25). A few college degrees do not qualify you for a high enough income to make your education worth the tuition such as “leisure and hospitality, agriculture, architecture, or the liberal arts”.

But others definitely prove that higher education is worth the cost, especially if they are in growing fields like “technical training, such as engineering or math and computers, … health care,” law, and rehabilitation fields (Abel and Dietz 2). Although there are a few downfalls to college education, as there is with anything, it proves to have a mostly positive impact on people’s lives. Other ways college education is more advantageous is it causes individuals to become more socially aware, understanding of cultures and history, and aids them in becoming a well balanced, open minded person that can take part intelligently in friendly discussions (Scaliger 21).

People are two times more likely to say that they are glad they decided to go to college if they had a relationship with a staff member or was inspired by one. Students place value in their education based on the relationships they make (Crabtree and Seymour 1). College teaches you to manage your time wisely, to budget, and persevere when things are difficult and stressful (Melville 40). College graduates are more content with their jobs at a rate of “53%” in comparison to high school graduates rate of “37%” (Koebele). Even though three out of four individuals are concerned that college is not worth the inflated cost, President Obama stated ‘”college… is the best investment America can make in our future” (qtd. in Melville). Most of the mentioned researchers have adopted the same opinion.

Many people have debated if college is still worth the cost of tuition. Even though college graduates are left behind with record breaking debt, end up delaying adult decisions, and do not always get their dream job, those who finish college still are better off than those with only a highschool diploma. Their degree allows them to have higher wages, better opportunities for future advancement, and lower unemployment rates.

College like any investment may not be the perfect fit for all but, in general, it gives individuals a better chance at success, develops them into a well rounded person who can contribute to society, and aids them in building a better and more fulfilling future for themselves.

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Is College Worth the Cost?. (2020, Jan 18). Retrieved from