A recent article on CNN Money pointed out that, with rising college tuition costs, it may be time for parents and students to evaluate a college education like they would any other major purchase and ask themselves, “Is it worth it?” The article compares the average annual cost of tuition at public and private colleges with average median starting salaries for different professions and concludes that engineering, math, and science are the only fields of study that should be considered if one expected to achieve a return on their investment. Is this a prudent recommendation to parents and students who are considering college?
According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average annual cost of attending a 4-year college was $15,014 for public institutions and $32,790 for private institutions in 2009-2010. That means that over the course of four years, a college degree will have cost $60,056 at a public university and $131,160 at a private university. Given the hefty price tag, one would think that students who decide to go to college would consider a cost-benefit analysis when selecting a major, but is that really the case? With the rapid rise in college fees, this is a burning question in the mind of every parent. There are tuition assignments that are equally expensive and with all this, it might be a little difficult for people to afford college.
NCES statistics show that in 2009, out of 32 possible fields of study, just two accounted for approximately 33% of 1.6 million bachelor’s degrees conferred. These two were Business (22%) and Social Sciences amp; History (11%). The next eight fields of study, ordered from highest to lowest, make up over 75% of all degrees granted: Health Professions, Education, Psychology, Visual amp; Performing Arts, Biological amp; Biomedical Sciences, Communications amp; Journalism, Engineering, and finally, English. A survey conducted by Payscale.com of average salaries earned by college graduates shows that the most lucrative degrees are in engineering, with 7 of the top 10 highest-earning fields being in some type of engineering, and 9 out of 10 of the highest average starting salaries being in engineering. Yet, engineering ranks number nine in the list above of the top ten degrees earned.
So the question begs to be asked: Should students make wiser choices when it comes to selecting majors? Should parents encourage their children to pursue these fields if they display the ability? Is a college education worth the cost if your child wishes to major in a less lucrative field?
While it may be true that certain degrees are more likely to yield greater returns, statistics also show that any degree at all is worth having. The difference in potential income for a college graduate versus someone who has never gone to college, when calculated over the course of a lifetime, will justify the cost. In fact, a college degree pays for itself in less than ten years, as the median annual income for college graduates is approximately $15,000 higher than that of those who only have a high school diploma. Furthermore, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, college graduates fare much better in the job market. In January 2012, the unemployment rate for college graduates was 4.2percent, just half the unemployment rate of 8.4 percent for high school graduates.
So in the face of rising tuition costs, parents and students should not be discouraged from pursuing a college degree if their passion is not in engineering, math or science. It is not uncommon for someone who majored in English or History to later go into an unrelated (and higher-paying) field such as investment banking. It is not necessarily the degree an individual has that qualifies them for certain jobs. Aptitude, well-roundedness, communication skills, and drive are qualities that can be developed and honed in college that will enable someone to achieve success in the real world. Whether your passion is in computer science or the arts, college is a place where you can experiment and explore. It is a place where you can challenge yourself and build a network of peers and mentors that can help you achieve the things you’ve dreamed about.
The inside of a classroom is not the only place where lessons are learned, as for many, this is their first time living away from their parents and on their own, and that “life lesson” is just as important as the degree that is achieved. No matter what background you come from, a college environment provides a level playing ground where each student can not only learn and be exposed a variety of academic subjects and extracurricular activities but also to grow into adults and learn to live within a microcosm that is probably as diverse as it ever will be in most of their adult lives. Is the value of that “education” something we can quantify? Most likely not. It is, however, a lesson we should not live without.