Educational Discussions: College Tuition; A Cost Benefit Analysis

Author: Len Rich, Director Lawrence County Career and Technical School

I have read a number of articles in the local paper regarding the rising college debt of recent graduates.  A few facts:

  1. Pennsylvania ranks 3rd in the USA for per student debt.
  2. On average, each college student will graduate owing and average of $35,000.00
  3. The class of 2015 is the most indebted class ever in the history of the USA

College should be an option, but college is not the only option. The skilled trades can provide a secure income with little to no debt. College debt survives bankruptcy. College debt survives death.  Graduates must pay back their loans before they have any discretionary income to contribute to our economy.

As a father of a senior in high school, I am advising my daughter that if she chooses to take the path to a four year degree, she will have my support. However, she must choose a path where she can generate income to pay back her loans as well as provide for her own well-being.

As we have begun our tour of colleges and universities of interest, we heard an admission presentation about deciding on a major. This university had career counselors assigned to undecided freshmen to mentor them. These counselors will help the undergraduates choose their path.  The counselor was so proud of one example where she was able to steer a student towards a major in SOCIOLOGY!!!!!! I was immediately concerned. At no time did the counselor consider career earnings. At no time did the counselor address debt. According to officials at this university, student should plan for an annual cost of $34,000.00 per year. At the end of 4 years, this student would have paid $136,000.00 to earn an average $17.48 per hour or $39,134.00 per year.  Even if the student qualifies for 50% in scholarship and grant, the student will be $68,000 in debt. They will have to pay $566.00 per month before they do anything else.

We have told our children a lie. College or bust!!! Everyone goes to college. Fifty nine percent (59%) of students will graduate with a 4 year degree within 6 years. Not graduating on time further compounds the problem.

We have told our children another lie. Community college is an inferior choice. Community college is a great starting point. Young people can learn how to be students without being buried in debt. After attaining 24-48 credits at a C level or better, they can transfer to many private or public institution and finish their degree in 2-3 years. By starting at a community college, students can save $12,000.00 to $66,000.00 over the course of their education.

We have told our children a lie. The skilled trades are for dumb people. Nothing could be further from the truth. Can you do the following: plumbing, electricity, hvac, welding, repair your care, etc.? These jobs often pay over $50,000.00. Many have corresponding health care plans, 401K plans, and other benefits like profit sharing.

Post-secondary education is an investment. Let’s make sure we are getting an appropriate return on investment.

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