Unfortunately, for many students, earning a college degree does not guarantee a job in one’s field of study after graduation.
A May 2012 Economic Policy Institute report on the labor market for young graduates revealed that approximately 54% of recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. Underemployment refers to those with higher education in positions that do not require a college degree.
Indeed, the rising costs of tuition at public colleges and universities, which have increased 5.4% annually above inflation in the past 10 years, make students question if college is truly a worthwhile investment. The average student loan debt among 25-year-olds currently stands at $20,326, according to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Diane Stemper, the executive director of student financial aid at Ohio State University, is no stranger to the struggles of college loans. As a first-generation college undergraduate, she took out student loans in order to earn her bachelor of arts and master of public administration degrees. It was not until her thirties that she finished paying off all the money that she owed, but she has never regretted her decision.
“Getting a college degree transformed my life,” said Stemper. “I have opportunities available because of my college degree, and part of the reason why financial aid became my life-long career is because I’ve seen it firsthand and experienced it firsthand. … Borrowing money is sometimes necessary, but it is one of the greatest investments you’ll ever make. I’m good living proof of the opportunities that education can open up.”
According to Stemper, the tens of thousands of dollars (or more) that students spend to earn a bachelor’s degree is a profitable investment for a number of reasons. She cited studies from the U.S. Census Bureau, which state that there is a considerable income gap between high school and college graduates. Compared to those without degrees, students who graduate with a four-year degree accumulate lifetime earnings that are 83% higher. The College Board provides another study supporting the idea that the benefits of a degree outweigh the financial costs: Individuals with college degrees typically report higher job satisfaction and lower unemployment rates in comparison to high school graduates, even during the current recession.
Stemper said she believes that students should attend college, even if they will remain in debt long after graduation.
“College is a worthwhile investment in the future,” she said, “It’s not like a car that will depreciate; it’s an investment that will serve you throughout your career.”
The type of degree, whether liberal arts or business, did not change Stemper’s answer: “There are some fields that require very specialized degrees, but choosing a certain degree doesn’t really limit you to only careers in that field. … There are a lot of very successful people who have liberal arts degrees.”
Although many studies report that college graduates receive higher salaries in the long run, students’ feelings about the cost of college remain mixed. An often-cited disadvantage of a college degree is the four years of workforce experience lost during schooling. More and more high school students are choosing to attend college, perhaps in part because they believe that a degree is needed for a lucrative career.
“Students have very little chance of thinking about another choice when they have been led to believe that their life will be a complete failure, and that they will only be flipping burgers if they don’t go to college, take on huge debts, and then end up in a job like that anyway,” said Steven Mroczkowski, a sophomore majoring in accounting at the University of Georgia. “So is college worth it? Probably not for most of the students enrolled each year.”
But there is more to be gained from a diploma than a piece of paper.
“A college degree is terrific in the workforce, but it’s more than that — college degrees really transform life,” Stemper commented. “The college experience exposes individuals to different ways of approaching and solving problems. You interact with individuals from different backgrounds and different opinions.”
She went on to say that the skill sets and tools required for the continual assimilation of knowledge can be applied to all areas of life. Attending a university also provides students with networking, internship and leadership experiences that they may not have access to in a different setting.
What do you think? In your experience, does getting a degree yield more opportunities?
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