Not long ago I was contacted by a fellow who works for an Internet training company. The CEO had just posed a provocative question on their web site. The question asked was whether a college education is worth the money. Is there enough of a return on the investment of tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars for everyone who goes?
The author, Dave Dunn, cited figures that projected the costs of sending his three children to private colleges several years into the future. The totals were over $1,000,000. He used that million dollar figure to raise the issue.
Aside from the obvious fact that no one has to go to the most expensive private universities (unless on a full scholarship!), his point is still one that we, as parents and grandparents should ask. The mess that has become the college loan industry has been in the news. We are probably quite aware that the cost of a college education, even at a state run university, averages close to $40,000 for in-state students, and $100,000 for out-of-state attendees. Triple that for a top flight Ivy League or private college and there is serious money involved.
When I was in high school, it was expected that everyone who could afford to do so would go to four years of college after graduation. For those with limited means, two year junior colleges (now community colleges) were an option. Technical schools were available for those with mechanical interests. But, in my neighborhood of suburban Boston, college was simply a given.
As post high school education became increasingly expensive, folks began to ask the question: is college right and necessary for everyone? Well, for some professions like doctor or lawyer the answer was, and remains, yes. But, how about for other careers or job paths? How many require a four year degree versus shorter, specialized training and experience?
For this post, I raise the question because grandparents are sometimes asked for help in sending a grandchild to college, or of their own volition establish a college fund for a child’s child. If the money is available is college always the best option? Do we accept that a high school graduate may leave college already seriously in debt?
As the graduate of a well respected private university I will add two thoughts:
1) I have freely admitted that the money my parents spent on me was largely wasted. I had decided on my career path while barely a teenager. My chosen profession did not require a college education. During my last two years in college I worked almost full time at a radio station in town, learning my craft and improving my future prospects. My college classes were an interruption. In my case, college was somewhat wasted on the young.
2) I wish I could have gone to college when I was older. I would have possessed the maturity and intellectual curiosity to have made full use of what college is meant to do: teach one to think and learn critically and independently.
Before anyone starts leaving nasty comments I will make it clear that I know that continuing one’s education after high school is essential for the development of many of the skills for success in our technologically oriented world. High School graduates face a daunting task to survive and thrive. When used to its fullest, those extra years of schooling can be a building block to a full and satisfying life.
But, with a college education becoming something that is being priced out of reach of all but the well-to-do, we should ask if a traditional college is always the best choice. And, as grandparents, whether we pay part of the bill or not, we should ask if a four year institution is in the best interests of the young adult.
What do you think? How critical is that diploma? Is the amount of debt often required justified?What about on-line college degrees, where most of the work is done, at home, with only limited classroom time required? Technical colleges are readily available for virtually any career choice. Community colleges have developed well past just being a feeder system for four year schools.Is the time away at school important in one’s development as an adult? Is it more than just classes and study?
Your feedback is encouraged.
By Bob Lowry