My Turn: Is college worth it? That’s a no-brainer
How much do Americans spend on a new car on average? According to Forbes magazine, it’s about $31,000. How often do people buy new cars? Considering in the number of cars sold in the U.S. each year, the average comes out to a little more than three years before people trade in for something different. Options vary, but it pretty well guarantees most of us will always have a car payment. A car is a depreciable asset, meaning that ultimately, after so many years, its value will be zero. There is no return on this investment. That’s a choice.
What is the average price of a wedding in the United States? According to online data, it’s about $25,000. It’s the choice of a lifetime, but it’s also a one-day investment.
I raise this to bring perspective to a debate about the value of college. These are investments of choice not obligation. But not investing in college is the biggest risk you can take in your life.
Last December, The New York Times published an article called “Saying No To College” and cited the unconventional routes of highly successful people like Bill Gates to make a case against the college path. Other stories have recently stated that college is too expensive, so therefore not worth it.
And yet despite those views, a Pew study last January found 86 percent of respondents do consider a college education to be a good investment.
As recently as Jan. 9, USA Today reviewed federal census data and found some interesting conclusions about the “value” of a college education:
∎ Employment rates from the most recent economic recession showed a 7 percent decrease for people with bachelor’s degrees, but 16 percent decrease for those with just a high school diploma.
∎ During the recession, wages dropped 5 percent for bachelor’s degree holders, but 10 percent for those with a high school diploma.
∎ The cost of not pursuing a college degree is greater when the going gets tough. When you consider the lifetime earning potential of college graduates is at least a million dollars more than those without a degree, the case gets even stronger.
So whether you talk about the value of a degree in terms of earnings, or the cost of not pursuing a degree, society doesn’t really question whether a college degree is “worth it.”
But affordability is a problem. According to the College Board annual survey from 2012, the average cost for a year of public college for in-state students is more than $22,000 per year. Private schools are nearly double that amount.
We do what we can, but it’s only so much. New England College donates more than $13 million a year of our own money – in addition to federal and state programs – to help families afford college.
But this challenge requires creativity. So, starting this summer, NEC will launch a year-round college schedule. Within two years, our summer semester schedule will be as robust as the fall and spring semesters, allowing students to graduate in three years instead of four. We predict this will save students thousands, while offering unprecedented flexibility in choosing course schedules.
This new approach creates numerous options. Some students will want to modulate their semesters to take advantage of internship and employment opportunities available only during the fall and winter months.
There is less pressure on the short-term job market during these times, so students will have greater choice in terms of what to do for work.
Some students will want to package a bachelor’s and master’s degree program together within a four-year period. When you have the 12-month option, you can complete two degrees in the same period of time most students earn one.
We are excited about this plan, although we certainly understand it isn’t the magic solution to all of our students’ cost challenges. The point is schools are taking creative steps to make college more affordable. Is it worth it? Of course it is; just consider the alternative.
(Michele Perkins is the president of New England College in Henniker.)