College: Still worth it if you choose wisely
Getting a college degree still pays off for most students, said Josh Mitchell in The Wall Street Journal, but it is no longer a sure route to higher salaries and greater wealth. The numbers still favor higher education: In recent years, “Americans with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $77,239, nearly $32,000 more than the average of workers with only a high-school diploma.” However, students who borrowed now leave college with more than $30,000 in debt. And even with higher salaries, significant numbers of college graduates are struggling to build the wealth of previous generations. For black and Hispanic students, “there is little to no wealth advantage” from going to college at all, “splitting graduates more widely into haves and have-nots.” Meanwhile, the tight labor market has employers relaxing education requirements, said Conor Sen in Bloomberg.com, so millions of people are getting paid more “without having to spend years and tens of thousands of dollars on a degree that employers only ‘require’ when they have leverage over workers.”
There are still colleges that offer plenty of bang for your buck, said Kaitlin Pitsker in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. We ranked schools that “meet our definition of value: a high-quality education at an affordable price.” To really judge value, you often need to look past the sticker price. The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill tops our list of public universities for the 18th straight time. It boasts an 84 percent graduation rate; for students who qualify for need-based aid, the in-state tuition averages $4,905. At Yale University, half of students receive need-based financial aid that cuts the $71,000 tuition down by an average of 75 percent. For the college that “pays off the most,” we look to Stanford, said Abigail Hess in CNBC.com. Aid there is available to families with incomes as high as $250,000 a year; for students from families making less than $75,000 per year the annual cost—including room and board—averages $4,061. Meanwhile, the starting salary for Stanford grads is $109,800. Some of the biggest salary advantages at top schools come at midcareer points, 10 years out of school. A number of colleges, including Georgia Tech, boast midcareer salaries that average over $130,000.
Those arguing that college isn’t properly preparing young graduates for work miss the point of a liberal-arts degree, said Erik Gross in WashingtonExaminer.com. It teaches skills “such as critical thinking, written and verbal communication, intercultural fluency, interpersonal skills,” and more. Liberal arts graduates might find themselves “better equipped for the rapidly changing job market,” in which Millennials change occupations every few years. What’s more, humanities and social sciences are generally cheaper to teach than STEM classes. Investing in liberal arts programs “can save money for colleges, while cutting costs and discounting tuition” for students. ■