With mounting student-loan debt and increasingly high unemployment, some people might question whether a college degree is still worth the cost. Mayor Bloomberg of New York even suggests that mediocre students skip college altogether and become plumbers instead. But a post-secondary education is still worth it in the end, even if the student isn’t graduating magna cum laude from Harvard.
Most importantly, a college degree provides a student with a lot more options. A job as a plumber might cut down on student loans and time, but it will keep a person restricted in the longer term. In today’s economy it helps to have a wide range of skills. Even a lot of basic jobs require college degrees, and while it might take more time for the job to start paying back, it will be ultimately worth it.
A college education can be expected to pay back in the long term. On average, college graduates make 84% more over their lifetime than their high-school-educated counterparts. Unemployment rates vary greatly between people who have high-school certificates and those with college degrees. April’s national unemployment rate stood at 7.5%, according to the Labor Department. The unemployment rate for high-school graduates over 25 years old who hadn’t attended college was 7.4%, compared with 3.9% for those with a bachelor’s degree or more education.
Picking the right major is probably even more important than going to the right school. The average student might not be able to get into a top-tier institution, but he can still expect to do well if he chooses a practical major. STEM majors are the most lucrative at this point, while people with liberal-arts majors (unless they’re graduating from the Ivy League) might find themselves at a disadvantage.
Average students might find community college a much better option. By attending a community college, students won’t have to pay as much as they would have for a four-year institution. Students can also transfer out to a four-year institution after two years. A lot of states have really good transfer programs — in California, for example, an average student with a decent GPA can expect to get into California State University or the University of California. Opting for state universities instead of private institutions also cuts down on tuition costs.
When it comes to evaluating the costs and returns of education, salaries aren’t the only things that should matter. Higher education can provide a lot of intangible benefits, such as intellectual exploration and growth. Taking up classes on philosophy and literature, talking to people with diverse perspectives, and exploring different interests and subjects can help you figure out what you want from life and enable you to grow as a person.
Ultimately, students should choose what works best for them. Taking on a trade right after high school might reap immediate benefits, but a college education remains a good investment for most people.