The cost of a four-year college education keeps going up. Over the last four years it seems the number of jobs – at least fulltime ones – has been going down. It's led many, including former Education Secretary William Bennett, to question whether college is worth the cost.
In his book, "Is College Worth It?" Bennett raises a question that a lot of recent graduates may be asking themselves. After getting a bachelors degree and running up thousands of dollars in student loans, they may be working as retail clerks, right alongside their peers who didn't go to college.
Bennett concluded that a degree from some colleges might be worth the cost while degrees from others most definitely are not. And he isn't the only one to weigh in on the topic.
When U.S. News threw out the question – is college worth it – on its Debate Club website, it drew diverse responses and a two-to-one margin of replies endorsing a college degree. Craig Brandon, author of "The Five-Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up On Educating Your Child and What You Can Do About It," was among those voting no.
“Four to six years of partying do not equal an education,” he wrote.
But Chris Farrell, Economics Editor of Marketplace Money, was among those voting yes.
“The return on investment in postsecondary education remains compelling,” he wrote.
At this point, many career counselors tend to agree with Farrell. A study by the job-matching service TheLadders found that people with a four-year degree earn, on average, $215,000 more than people without college, over a 20-year period.
The study, based on data from its more than six million users, found a graduate degree is even more valuable. Someone with a masters degree or higher earned an average of $440,000 more than non-graduates over the same two-decade span.
The difference, however, may not be evident right away. Graduates could see their compensation grow exponentially as the years pass. While the immediate benefit of a college degree seems nonexistent, the big payoff is typically seen over the course of a long career, the company says.
"TheLadders' study proves that an undergraduate degree is beneficial and promotes growth over time during any career," said Amanda Augustine, job search expert for TheLadders. "If you're wondering whether to go back and finish your four-year degree, this new information encourages you to take the plunge."
Paying for college
First, however, you should probably figure out how you are going to pay for it. In early 2013 the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) estimated the outstanding student loan total in the U.S. exceeded $1 trillion. In a more recent report, the CFPB said over seven million borrowers were in default on a federal or private student loans.
The lesson here is to not get over-extended. Know what your costs are going to be, where the money will come from, and if you have to pay it back, how you'll do it.
Finally, there should be a compelling reason to go to college, whether you are going right out of high school or returning after a few years in the military or work force. What are you going to study and how is that going to help you advance in a career?
Without good answers to those questions, experts say you may in fact be wasting money. The job market has changed and doesn't have a rewarding job waiting for everyone who gets a college degree.