Is college worth your money?

My husband and I both attended 4-year colleges, myself a private institution (Canisius College), he a public one (University of Colorado).  We graduated into a relatively good job market and were able to start working immediately after graduation, both at Kodak, where we met at employee orientation.  I commuted to school which helped my parents afford the higher cost of a private school. My husband and I were both lucky to graduate debt free, due to our parent’s generosity, some small scholarships and jobs we held to help pay our costs.  That was in the 80’s.

In the 90s, my husband and I were both working at fairly well paying jobs.  We started a family and started contributing to 529 plans for both our children with the expectation that we would help them, at least partially, with their college costs.  We assumed our children would follow in our footsteps and attend college.

Fast forward to today. My husband has not worked in the last 7 years and after being unemployed for most of 2009, I was able to start a new job last year that paid significantly less than what I had been making.  We are no longer in a position to contribute significantly to secondary education for both of our children.  To make matters worse, the cost of college, especially private ones, have gone up significantly compared to the increase in people’s salaries.

I’ve been seeing more and more articles online, in newspapers and magazines questioning the value of a college education.  The first one I read, which grabbed my attention, was published last year in More magazine: Is College Worth Your Cash?.  Claudia Dreifus has written a book on the subject and specifically challenges the value of highly rated, expensive institutions like Harvard.  You can also check out her website dedicated to the topic: Higher Education? The article, Is college worth the money? on MSN Money proposes that the value gained from a 4 year degree does not dramatically outweigh the benefits of debts incurred.

We are now of the belief that if our children want to go to college, we will push them to start at the local community college.  Our 15 year old, who is 2 years away from graduating high school, is still undecided on his path in life.  Attending a community college would be beneficial to him for many reasons:

  • This will give him some time to figure out what he wants to major in.
  • He will have extra time to figure out  if he wants to pursue a 4 year degree.
  • The credit hour cost for community colleges is much less than 4 year schools.  Many 4 year schools will transfer your credits. If he does decide to transfer to another institution, then the money he saved by going to the 2 year college could give him more options for his second 2 years.
  • If he chooses not to continue he can still graduate with a two year degree.

We’d be doing our kids a disservice if we spent our money on a 4 year college. We’d also be doing them a disservice if we let them graduate with large student debts that take years to pay off.   There’s true value in starting your adult life modestly.


9 thoughts on “Is college worth your money?

  1. I agree! Many 2 year schools have a partnership with 4 year colleges (such as Monroe Community College has with other SUNY Schools in NY State) which is a great benefit when transferring credit. Another avenue for education that does not get much recognition are Trade Schools and Apprenticeship programs, not to mention careers in fields where there seems to be a continual shortage such as Professional Truck Drivers.

  2. A few years ago a friend told me about a web site that determined in a sense the value of eduction. (I will post that site later if I can find it…).

    The point was to determine what the potential job would be after graduation, and determine the pay that position would have. The site then determined the maximum that should be taken in student loans to keep the debt ratio at a reasonable level.

    The point I take out if this: the college education is NOT worth it if you cannot afford to pay off student loans when you are done.


  3. I believe that the Monroe mentioned by a writer here is a private “for profit” institution. New York City, where it is located, has far less expensive public community colleges with low tuitions, high academic standards and a straight line into CUNY and SUNY for students with decent grades.

    We thank you Mrs. Heine for your interesting in “Higher Education?” We wrote the book for you and your neighbors. And like you we feel that debt should be avoided. Please check out our website, or get the book from your local library. There will be a paperback coming soon on Amazon.

    Thanks much, Claudia Dreifus
    co-author, “Higher Education?”

  4. Michele – nice piece. The cost of college just kills me. Long term inflation is, what, 3%? And LT college inflation is something like 6%. Unsustainable. My son is attending a private school but has some scholarship aid and co-op income. My goal is for him to graduate with not much more debt than 1/3 his starting salary – – about what I did in 1980.

    • Good luck with that Chris. I think private school tuition inflation is worse than public. I think it’s good to have a goal for how much debt you’re willing to take on.

      A lot of kids just don’t have a clue about what it costs when they move out on their own. They think that they’re going to be making so much money when they first start in their career that they can pay off their huge student loans quickly. That assumes that they can get a job when they graduate.


  5. I think for some reason, going to college doesn’t really work for them. College is more for people who want to go to grad school. The debt that accumulates while in college is just a shame. It’s just pains me to see students cutting classes paying thousands of dollars for their education. People spend their whole lives trying to pay off those 4 years. Interesting article. I too am writing a blog about the cost of higher education.

  6. I agree and disagree with the point that going to college is not worth it. If a person is going to go to college and just muddle through to get some sort of liberal arts degree or maybe not even have an idea what they want to do with their life, then don’t bother. I’ve heard about culinary institutes charging something like $40,000.00 to become a chef, which is a good idea if you wind up becoming an executive chef but those jobs are extremely hard to get, however if you can become a doctor for $50,000.00-$100,000.00 then you might have a shot at being able to pay your debt.
    I advised both my children to get degrees. My younger son got some help from the State of Nevada who had a scholarship and from us. My daughter who was older so I wasn’t able to help her, put herself through college and graduated last week. She will pretty much be able to get a job right away due to her degree. My son however hasn’t used his degree because there was no need, however now that he is going after better jobs he’s glad he has the degree.
    My point is, if you are not willing to plan for your future then don’t bother borrowing money to go to college.

    • I agree with some of your points, for example it doesn’t make sense to go to college if you don’t have a life plan. I object to people paying big bucks for an education that prepares them for a career that only pays so-so money. There’s no sense in going to Harvard to become a landscape designer. There are some careers where it matters where you got your education. It is great if you can get a scholarship to help pay for it. Some states offer free or close to free college educations. If you can take advantage of options to afford a more costly education then go for it. I find it ridiculous how much students are getting into debt just to graduate and that’s what I’m trying to bring attention to.

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

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