Blogs > NH Education News

A behind the scenes look at education from pre-K to college in Northeast Ohio

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cost of college

A pair of recent Pew Research Center surveys asked a very intriguing question: Is college worth it? That question becomes even more important when paired with a recent Wall Street Journal update about college debt.

According to the WSJ story, this year’s college graduates will embark on their careers with more debt than any of their predecessors – even when that debt is adjusted for inflation. When student and parent loan debts are combined, the average 2011 debt for earning a college diploma is $22,900 at graduation time, up some 47 percent from a decade ago.

That’s a significant chunk of change, considering most federal student loans must be paid off within 10 years of graduation. (In some cases, loan repayment can last as long as 25 years.)

While the WSJ essentially assumes the benefits outweigh the cost, the Pew center asks both the general public and college presidents that question in direct and indirect ways. The results, released this week, show – unsurprisingly – that college presidents are more likely than the general public to believe college is a good investment.

What is surprising is just 55 percent of college graduates said their postsecondary experience had been “very useful” in preparing them for a job or career, with another 33 percent saying it was “fairly useful.” A whopping 74 percent, however, said college was very useful in helping them to grow intellectually.

Those results beg the question: What, then, is the purpose of college? Isn’t it supposed to prepare students for careers? Maybe, but maybe not. Pew also asked respondents about the primary mission of colleges and found college graduates are more likely to say the extra schooling is meant to encourage personal and intellectual growth, while those who did not graduate from college say postsecondary education is meant to prepare students for careers.

Just 77 percent of Pew respondents said a college education is “extremely important” or “very important” for success in life, while 90 percent said on-the-job skills are important. A good work ethic (96 percent) and knowing how to get along with others (93 percent) were deemed even more important.

All of which brings us back to the first question. Pew also found that loan debt caused financial strain for 48 percent of those who took out college loans but are no longer in school, making it harder for them to make ends meet. However, 86 percent of the graduates surveyed said college was a good investment for them personally.

Intriguingly, of the general public surveyed, only 5 percent said college students receive excellent value for their money, with another 35 percent saying it’s a good value and 42 percent saying it’s fair.

Other tidbits:
-          College graduates surveyed estimate they would earn about $20,000 less if they had not gotten a degree, while those without a degree estimate they would earn about $20,000  more if they had gotten a degree. That’s in line with U.S. Census data.
-          Of those ages 18-34 who aren’t currently enrolled and don’t have a bachelor’s degree, finances are likely to be the main reason for skipping college. For 67 percent of this population, the need to support a family is the primary reason for not going to college. (Ironic, given that the long-term economic boost supposedly received through higher education may help support families later on but doesn’t help immediate financial shortfalls.)

As for those college presidents: They’re almost twice as likely as the general populace to believe college is financially affordable for most people.

- Rachel Jackson,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home