Rethinking Higher Education-Part 1: Is A College Degree Really Worth $100,000?

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I’d like to start this series by first setting the record straight concerning two particular points.

First, I honestly believe that education is very important. From infancy we start soaking in our environment, processing information, filtering out what we don’t need and using what is valuable. This allows babies to learn to walk and mimic to vocal patterns they hear which leads to their ability to communicate. We should never deny that learning is very important.

Second, I have zero animosity towards higher education institutions and those employed by them. These institutions serve an important role, passing along knowledge to the younger generation who will then add to and improve upon said knowledge.

That being said, I find it very difficult to recommend traditional colleges and universities to teens beginning their post high school education. Why? The main reason is the extreme cost which leads to years and years of bondage in the form of debt. Proverbs 27:7 says, “Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender”. Years of servitude to creditors is not what I want for my children nor any other youth. I’m sure you feel the same way!

But over and over again we see freshly graduated teens signing on the dotted line, agreeing to years of bondage.

Debt is like a vampire, it feeds on your finances, drains your bank account and cripples your economic well being. As alluded to in the verse above, a life burdened with debt yields a future without financial freedom. This is simple fact.

So, why do we choose to tell our youth to begin their financial journeys tied down by the millstone of educational debt? Why do we advise them in such a way that sets them up for monetary failure and financial misery? Because we don’t know any better.

The fact is, very few folks are speaking out concerning the ineffectiveness of a college degree. Despite the hundreds who tell their personal horror stories of worthless degrees, many haven’t heard and most who have heard consider them isolated incidents. To be honest, I can’t really fault them. After all, we’ve been raised to believe college degrees are neccessities that lead to a higher earnings. From elementary on we are molded into eager college attendies. We hear the success stories of degree earners who make massive amounts of money and live the American dream all because they earned a coveted piece of paper.

What we hear much less of are the stories that tell how having a degree made no difference at all. I read a blog earlier today in which a woman explained that her neice was very disappointed in her Bachelor’s Degree because she could not find a job in her choosen career field, instead, she now works as a waitress. I’m not knocking the food service industry. I speak from personal experience when I say it’s noble, honest, hard work. But her degree hangs in a frame in her home doing her absolutely no good!

Here’s a question for you: Would you ever purchase a vehicle for $50,000- half the cost of this young waitress’s education- if you knew it would never run, never take you anywhere and never be of any use except sitting in your driveway looking good? Of course not! When we spend such a large amount of money we expect the purchased product to not only perform its function but to do so very well. Yet, this is exactly what’s happenning daily in America. We are purchasing a much larger ticket item and agreeing to pay it off slowly over multiple years, based on the idea that it’s “worth the investment”. The truth is, it’s not. Just like the useless vehicle taking up space in the driveway, there are many degrees hanging on walls, also of zero use.

Investors are familiar with the term Return On Investment or ROI. It refers to the ratio between the amount of money invested verses the amount earned. If I invest $100 dollars in stocks and then later sell them for $120 that’s a good return on my investment. I’ve made a profit of $20. Obviously, investing the same $100 in stocks and finding their value decreases to $25 is not favorable. Thats a negative Return On my Investment to the tune of $75. The same can be said for investing in a start-up company, a new invention or mutual funds. We always aim for the highest ROI possible.

Just as we would avoid a business deal or stock purchase which is not likely to produce a positive ROI, so should we do the same when deciding on an educational path. You may say, “But Taz, a college education is vital enough that it’s worth it at any price! How are we to get ahead without a degree?” Or maybe you’re wondering, “If not college, then how are we to attain the education that will help us earn a good living?” Both are legitimate questions and there are many others like them. Bright Balance Ministries will be addressing them in the “Rethinking Higher Education” series. It is our hope that this series of blogs will help steer youth towards financially successful lives free from the bondage of debt.

Stay tuned, leave comments, tell your friends about this site, and feel free to leave questions for us. We look forward to great discussions with you in the near future.

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10 thoughts on “Rethinking Higher Education-Part 1: Is A College Degree Really Worth $100,000?

  1. SavvyJames

    While I believe we agree on the exorbitant expense associated with attaining a college degree, I would disagree with the suggestion that a college degree is ineffective. After all, the options for securing a well paying job (career) are fairly limited without one for most people. Is it still possible to do so without one? Sure. Let’s not fool ourselves though. Those days are nearly gone and most people will be much better served by attaining a college degree. It seems to me the real question is why do so many young people continue to saddle themselves with so much debt when it is not necessary?

    My suggestions…

    1. Military service. IMHO, the absolute best option. Learn a skill/trade while you are earning decent salary/benefits, use programs like Tuition Assistance (government pays 75% of costs) while on active duty, and the GI Bill once separated from service, all with the added bonus of serving your country. The savvy individual can get a college degree (multiple degrees in fact) to pair with their training and real world experience at no expense…other than the service.

    2. College Savings Plan. Forward looking parents should start a college savings plan (e.g. 529) as soon as possible. Of course, the difficulty here is that financial literacy in this country is abysmal. Unfortunately, too many parents can’t figure out how to establish a $1,000 emergency fund, less known establish and effectively fund a college savings plan.

    3. Community College. Why do kids have to go to a university all four years? A huge waste of money! Why not go to a local community college – closer to home (stay with mom & dad – save money) and work part-time (make money) the first two years. Overall it is a great way to spend less money and be more prepared. The first two years are primarily spent just taking core courses (e.g. English) and lower level specialty courses anyway. Moreover, when they complete the last two years at University, guess what, the degree looks the same as the person’s that spent all four years there.

    At the end of the day, the problem isn’t college degrees, the problem is that too many people are financially illiterate and make poor decisions with respect to getting a college degree.

    Reply
  2. bbminister Post author

    Great comments as usual James. We may disagree on the effectiveness of a college degree but I do agree that IF one chooses to attain one there must be a plan in place to deal with the debt that comes with it. The next blog in this series will deal with one alternative to managing the high cost of a college education. Military service is a great example, one I wish was highlighted when I was younger. I look forward to your future comments on this series.

    Reply
    1. SavvyJames

      While I can appreciate the frustration many feel with regards to taking on substantial debt with seemingly insufficient returns, there are a couple of things that I believe should be kept in mind. First, I think it is fairly easy to find a significant number of people that got a degree , Bachelors level and up, and are making minimum wage. It makes for great headlines. However, I think we have to keep sight of the big picture, the results across the board. This graphic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) makes the point >>> http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm — looking forward to your thoughts on the chart….

      Second, and I meant to touch on this in my first comment, is that we have to be honest with ourselves and admit that too many people are paying way too much for inferior degrees. If I had a child that indicated they were considering $75,000 in loans for either a degree in social services or engineering, I know which way I would steer them.

      Looking forward to the next entry in the series.

      Reply
      1. bbminister Post author

        Thanks for the reply and for including the graph James. My reaction to it is apprehension. In researching finances, education and health (as you know I’m Vegan) I’ve come to have very little faith in our government, its research, etc.
        (Although not every member of our govt. is corrupt) So when they put out research info I tend to not put much trust in it. Add to that the fact that there are so many folks I know personally who are not working in a field that utilizes their degree.

      2. SavvyJames

        I appreciate your skepticism. However, I think we have to be careful not to put too much faith in anecdotal evidence. Like you, I know plenty of people that have degrees that are either not working in their degree field and/or are underpaid. However, experiences with 50 or 75 people/cases is not empirical.

        At the end of the day, I come back to one simple proposition. If I was in a position to counsel a young person, the last thing I would tell them is, “just go with your high school diploma, things will probably work out.” While attaining a degree has its issues (e.g. the high cost) and a degree itself does not guarantee anything, I am still inclined to believe that higher education gives most people a better chance for success…just be wise in its pursuit. Strive to minimize costs and ensure the effort – and expense – is for a degree that is marketable.

        Definitely a topic of great interest.

  3. Carey Green

    I’ve been doubting the legitimacy of a college education for a very long time. Many people I know have wound up in careers that were NOT in their line of college study. I would like to find a way to help teens/young adults find their niche without the steep pricetag. Great post!

    Reply
    1. SavvyJames

      “Many people I know have wound up in careers that were NOT in their line of college study.” Do you attribute that to something done/not done by the university or by poor planning by the individual? In other words, do you believe schools are knowingly steering students toward degrees that they know/suspect will not pay well or for which there is a limited market; or do you believe students fail in their assessment of the job market and choose poorly with respect to a major?

      Reply
    2. bbminister Post author

      Thanks for your time and comment Carey. Like you, I’ve seen many college graduates end up in careers paying well below what their chosen field would pay them IF they were to be employed in those fields. Their degrees look great on the wall but all they have to show for their hard work is massive debt. I just think that’s very sad. They worked very hard for their degree. A well-paying career should be the end result.
      I’m not trying to put down the goal of seeking more education. But, considering the price tag, there should be more degree holders enjoying the career fields they aspired to participate in.
      I’m with you as far as helping the young folks avoid debt while finding their niche. I pray God allows my Teen Green blogs, here on this site, to help that happen.

      Reply
  4. bbminister Post author

    James, you pose an interesting question to Carey. I look forward to his answer. I don’t think universities are steering students in the wrong direction on purpose. But, I do believe the govt. influences what universities teach (see the documentary “The Flaw”) Plus, a high school senior may research careers and chooses a path today, only to find the economic climate at the time he earns his degree is so different that the booming field he chose is no longer booming, folks are no longer hiring, businesses are folding, etc. I know this isn’t the case “most of the time” but it happens enough that I believe we should question the tradition.
    We may disagree on certain points but I love your comments. Keep em coming! I’d love to read your comment on part two of this series also.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: The Scourge of Student Debt | RetirementSavvy

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