There was a time when attending college assured you of a better job, higher wages, and financial security. Many still tout higher education as the single best solution to provide upward mobility.That was when the majority of workers did not have college degrees. Today, 36% of the workforce carries a bachelor’s degree or higher, where 34% have a high school diploma or less. The changing tide makes a college degree a basic requirement for many jobs, but may not carry the pay increases it once did.
Concerns over the value of college largely come from the rapidly rising cost of attendance and the struggle to find good-paying employment after graduation. The price tag for a year of collegerose 1200% over the last 30 years.Financial assistance, in the form of free money, declined over the same period due to state budget cuts.High student loan debt also causes concern for graduates and can lower the benefit and upward mobility a college degree traditionally provides. These factors cause many upcoming students to reconsider if college is still the golden ticket to a better life.
Statistically, college graduates continue to out-earn those with only a high school diploma, but changes in the employment market rapidly can alteremployer needs. For example, some jobs in technology do not always require a traditional four-year college degree, because the skill set quickly become obsolete and requires ongoing training.
To calculate your college ROI, consider these five factors:
1.How much does the school cost?There are three main categories of schools that determine the cost of your anticipated degree. You can choose a private university, which tends to be the most expensive. Private universities, however, might offer attractive financial aid packages, and often have higher graduation rates. Public Universities charge in-state and out-of-state tuition rates, with non-residents paying closer to the cost of a private school. In-state public schools are the least expensive option, before subtracting financial aid from the tuition and fees. For-profit universities and online degrees have gained popularity due to their increased flexibility.
Consider the total cost of the education you want, including tuition, books, fees, and room and board. Also calculate the cost of living in the university town, which could be different than where you currently reside.
2.What debt will you need to incur to complete school?Study the financial aid packages of each accepted application. They will help gauge the estimated student loan balances you will need to pay for school. Understand that the package offered in your freshman year will not be the same in subsequent years.Schools could offer a higher level of aid to first-year students to entice acceptance. Private scholarships and multi-year endowments can lower the overall cost of school and reduce debt required to attain a degree.
Ways to reduce the debt load could include working part-time during the school year, using funds from summer jobs to pay towards living expenses, and spending time applying for private scholarships each year.
3. How long will it take you to graduate?When you begin school, meet with a counselor and establish a rough class schedule that meets the four-year timeline. Counselors know which classes the school offers each semester and can build a strategy that will lead to faster degree completion. Taking summer courses may help fill any scheduling gaps.
Putting yourself on a four-year plan is the cheapest way to a college degree. Changing majors or adding additional majors or minors can lead to a six-year journey for that four-year degree. Prerequisites and classes only offered in certain semesters can also add to the time it takes to complete required classes. It takes six years for 59% of college students to complete a four-year degree.
Finish. Falling short of graduation only provides a marginal increase in income over those with a high school diploma. Once you start, ensure you complete the degree.
4. Lifetime earnings potential. Before choosing a major understand the job opportunities and expected pay upon graduation and over your working career. Keep student loan balances below your anticipated first-year salary to increase the chances of paying off the debt within ten years.
Not all college degrees have the same value. Consider the employment opportunities provided by the chosen degree. Liberal arts degrees with no specific direction have less value than more direct training. However, being too specific can lead to limited job options as workforce needs change.
If you want to work in public service, teaching or other field where state or federal budgets set the pay rate, attending a lower cost school can provide the same job opportunities as a more expensive school. Competitive fields such as financial services or engineering may benefit from a school specializing in your chosen field.
5.Opportunity cost. Opportunity cost considers the income you would make during the time you attend school, compared to the cost of attendance and anticipated earnings after the degree. When seeking an advanced degree, or leaving the workforce to return to school, weighing the opportunity cost will help maintain perspective.
Earning a college degree or higher comes with the cost of both time and money. College is a place to learn job skills which will largely determine income potential for decades to come.
Calculating the ROI on your college experience will keep you focused on the long-term goal of graduation and reduce debt loads, which you could struggle to pay after graduation. A university education still pays off in the form of increased lifetime earnings, even with the higher price tag.
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