Thursday, May 29, 2014

Is College Worth It?


Every year around this time, the same question is asked  and debated on between academics, college administrators, officials in the public/private sphere, and students--is college worth it? The question is of the utmost importance for recent high school and college graduates, along with their parents, who often participate in paying for the college education. They generally want to know if the experience is actually worth the cost, and if the time and money spent will increase the chances of finding a better job in an expanding economy. No doubt that students currently attending or planning on attending UT Tyler have asked this question during their time here.

The answer, according to David Leonhardt from the New York Times, is an unequivocal yes. Leonhardt looks to the college wage premium to make this determination. The college wage premium is how much more college graduates earn than everyone else, based on changing job requirements and overall economic health. Leonhardt finds that the premium is the widest it has ever been, meaning the benefits of a college degree outweigh the potential benefits of finding a job straight out of high school.

Leonhardt also note that, despite mounting fears about student debt levels in the United States and their potential deterrent effect on matriculation, the average student's loan burden pales in comparison to the long-term benefits of a bachelor's degree. That effect is strengthened with more time spent in the higher education setting; i.e. obtaining an MBA, PhD, M.D., J.D., etc.

However, one should not assume that attending college grants the same premium effect as graduating from college. Leonhardt finds that the wage premium for people with some college experience but no degree has been stagnant for years, even as debt levels has been rising. The result is that college dropouts may be worse off than people who never even enrolled. Thus, when one asks themselves "Is college worth it?" they must evaluate both the potential of a college degree and the likeliness of obtaining said degree.

FiveThirtyEight Blog's Ben Casselman breaks down the numbers for the chances of graduating from college in today's social and economic environment. He finds that less than 60 percent of full-time students enrolled in college for the first time graduate for six years. This number decreases for part-time students, racial minorities, and older and low-income students. This means the potential to work within the college wage premium decreases based on various demographics, but it does not mean that the effort to obtain a college degree should be changed. Leonhardt argues that these numbers are not reasons to decide against college; they are an argument for strengthening programs aimed at improving graduation rates.


For future and returning college students reading this post, refrain from reading this in a skeptical or pessimistic lens. Take this as motivation to finish what you started, or what you are about to start. If you have decided on attending UT Tyler, or if you are questioning your return in the Fall of 2014, keep in mind the benefits of a college degree in today's economic climate versus dropping out or not enrolling in the first place. College is a great catalyst for future success, but the only way to achieve that effect is to graduate.

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