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The costliness of a college degree

What’s the most expensive part of going to college? You may be surprised to learn it’s not tuition, room and board or textbooks.
As any economist will tell you, the correct answer is opportunity cost. While tuition may cost a pretty penny, the wages you could’ve earned had you worked a full time job rather than attended school will far outweigh the cost of tuition.
This forces the question, what is a college degree really worth? Is it still worth it to go to college? And if it is still worth it, at what price will it not be? Or is college such a valuable experience that there is no cost we’re not willing to pay?
For many years, college was only for the upper class. The extremely wealthy would send their children to one of the few sources of higher education to learn history and philosophy and Latin and anything else a member of the upper class elite would need to know. Then, after World War II, the GI Bill was passed and America subsidized college educations for returning veterans, thus making it possible for members of the middle class to attain a college degree. Since then, the rate of attendance at four year universities has gone through the roof as the demand for higher education increased. For example, 94 percent of my graduating class from Mahwah High School went on to a four-year university.
So what is the true value of a college education now? Is it merely to give you a crushing advantage over 6 percent of the workforce who opted not to go to college? Years ago, it was almost impossible to find someone with a college degree unable to find a job. It was a mark of distinction, something only the truly elite attained. Now, when everyone and their mother has a college degree, it is not uncommon to struggle to find a job after graduation.
Furthermore, the price of college has been ever-increasing for the last few decades. Lofty tuition prices and a devious textbook market have furthered the inflation, ensuring that many students graduate with an overwhelming amount of debt.
In many ways, education is a lot like the housing market. People during the ’90s made lavish purchases because the value of homes in America had been on the rise for a few years. Therefore, it was a reasonable investment to buy a house, even an unaffordable house, because even if you couldn’t make your payments anymore, your house had increased in value, and you could sell it at a profit. We inflated the market until the bubble popped. People today view education the same way. Even if unaffordable, it’s still a necessary expense because the belief is, people need a degree to get a decent job.
I’m not arguing that no one should go to college. To be sure, there are benefits, both during and after higher education, and I for one have clearly bought into them. However, if a student cannot afford tuition, I am arguing that they should seriously weigh the pros and cons of pursuing higher education. A degree is no longer a winning lottery ticket waiting to be cashed. The current market isn’t what it was in the ’80s and ’90s and a college degree does not ensure a job with a lofty salary and benefits. So, graduating seniors should look at the current market, and think long and hard before they decide to take on a mountain of debt, just to get a degree with no career outlook. They need to decide whether or not it’s a good economic investment for them, rather than just blindly writing checks or signing loan agreements.
There has to be a price we’re not willing to pay. Tuition prices are at all-time highs because we’ve allowed anyone with a driver’s license to qualify for a student loan. Perhaps this is the price we’re not willing to pay.


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