Is College Still Worth It?
Written By: Emilia Copeland Titus 5 Feb 2024

As of 2022, almost 40% of Americans over the age of 25 had at least a bachelor’s degree. This national average has been climbing since the 1970s along with the average cost of higher education. Though it has increasingly become the norm for graduating high school students to immediately move on to full-time university attendance, the steep prices and unstable job market have led some people to question whether college is really worth it.

While it is often informed by societal expectations, the meaning of success is ultimately a personal one. Similarly, the value associated with a huge life experience like college is difficult to determine on a definitive, universal scale. At Strategies For College, we encourage families and their students to develop their own definitions of success and value in academic, personal, and financial terms.

Generally speaking, it remains true that a bachelor’s degree boosts a person’s earning potential and professional sphere. This is especially the case when looking at the average income of college graduates compared to their peers who only have a high school diploma.

In today’s world, however, people usually graduate from college with both a bachelor’s degree and at least some amount of debt. For this reason, some economists are starting to consider the “college wealth premium” as the principal metric by which they measure college graduates’ success. The college wealth premium looks at both a student’s postgrad income as well as their assets and the amount of loans they took out in order to obtain their degree. A person’s income must exceed their debts by a significant margin in order for this premium to remain positive. These factors together result in a more accurate picture of a person’s financial health following graduation.

Certain statistics in this field can be difficult to parse as more and more people attend college, because the other variables are greater in number and range. For example, certain schools may offer unique networking opportunities for specific fields, leading to more lucrative employment sooner after graduation; other schools may not have the same career services programs. But the latter school may cost less, so graduates have less debt and are therefore more financially “healthy” as they enter the workforce with a bachelor’s degree.

Students who receive undergraduate degrees from top-tier colleges often do go on to earn a higher income and work at more “prestigious” institutions. However, that does NOT mean that a bachelor’s degree from a non-Ivy school is less valuable. Many students who attend top-tier schools are also already privileged in terms of their family’s wealth and status. This can be linked to privilege in other spheres such as being able to work an unpaid internship for a semester to gain experience in a specific field, which later leads to a paid position at that company. The single degree does not tell a student’s whole story, and neither does the dollar amount on their paycheck.

No matter which metric you use, one thing remains evident across the board: the “value” of college increases significantly, regardless of scale, when the student actually graduates from school within the typical 4-year timeframe. If a student takes longer to obtain their degree, or if they drop out entirely, the “value” of their experience plummets. Not only will their income be lower and their debts greater—they will also miss out on all of the experiential learning that higher education offers in addition to the degree itself.

Keeping this in mind, it becomes clear how important it is not just for a person to go to college, but to go to the right college for them. As many as 40% of college students don’t end up graduating at all. It’s crucial to identify right away which schools will provide the best value and overall educational experience for your student before they’ve even been accepted. At SFC we pride ourselves on our methods for determining a student’s candidacy for schools that fit them on a financial, academic, and personal level. This way, students will end up attending a college that suits their needs and preferences and will provide them with a bachelor’s degree within 4 years.

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