Saiema A.

$1,000 Resolve to Evolve Scholarship Winner - Senior

When the Class of 2011 emerged from colleges and universities nationwide victoriously clutching their hard-earned degrees, they received a very special distinction: that of being the most indebted class ever. Ironically, this noteworthy honor comes after President Obama’s supposedly groundbreaking pledge to significantly increase government funding for higher education. With such elusive government promises, the job market in tatters due to the recent recession, and facing daunting bills of debt, Americans increasingly doubt the true value of a college education. For the general public planning for their futures, this precarious situation prompts a serious question: has the cost of college grown too high to be justified?

Prior to answering this question, the economic costs and benefits of a college degree must be evaluated as would be the case for any other investment. According to extensive research done by The Brookings Institute, a college degree does pay off – and many times over. The rate of return for an average 4-year college degree is 15.2% year, more than double the average rate of return to stock market investments, and five times the return to gold or home ownership. Considering that many critics of college degrees encourage investments in stocks and real estate as alternatives to investing in college, higher education is clearly the most profitable choice. As such, to be deterred by the significant upfront cost and subsequent debt would be tantamount to discarding an enormous profit; specifically, a $570,000 profit, which is how much more the typical college graduate earns over a lifetime than someone with only a high school diploma.

However, in my opinion, to evaluate the benefits of a college education from a purely economic standpoint would to be to lessen its true value. While a college degree ensures a steady salary and paves the way for a comfortable lifestyle, its benefits extend to personal and societal gain. College graduates tend to report higher levels of happiness, more marital satisfaction, and lower divorce rates than those with only a high school diploma. Likewise, their health is significantly better, as they have lower smoking rates and are more likely to do exercise. Their contributions to society extend far beyond a specific work sector; college graduates have much higher rates of civic participation, ranging areas such as voting, volunteer work, and blood donations. Those questioning their decision to invest in a college education would be wise to not dwell on their debts and instead gaze to the future, as the significant benefits of college, like any other investment, come with time.

Although higher education is a profitable investment and beneficial to all aspects of life, the exorbitant and soaring cost of college tuition is an eminent concern. Not only do these high costs hinder many from attending college due to fear of debt, these costs are largely used for purposes that are not necessary. The average student at a 4-year college pays about $30,000 per year – much of this money is used for purposes that don’t help students and as such, are superfluous. There is dire need for reform – colleges must reevaluate budgets and reallocate funds in order to best serve the student population.

Echoing the beliefs of Vance Fried, a professor, I propose an initiative to remove research from universities. While research is a vital and necessary endeavor in itself as it benefits society technologically and scientifically, it does not add anything to the average college education. Much research that is done in colleges is funded by external sources; however, other research, typically involving the humanities, is internally funded with money coming directly from colleges – in other words, from students’ tuitions. Removing large-scale research from colleges would lower tuition costs by as much as $11,000. To take money from a student’s tuition in order to fund research that will not help the education of that student in any way is unfair. There exist independent research institutions elsewhere, and these should be used as models for the creation of more. Removing research from universities would be a reform that would better serve the students who pay to attend and lower their tuition costs (Fried).

However, reforms by universities and the government are lengthy and require significant time; as such, students must adjust their own actions immediately in order to minimize the cost of their education. Having a clear vision of what career to pursue will ensure early on that they do not waste money on unnecessary courses. Another viable option is to graduate in three years rather than the traditional four, which could save up to $20,000. Finally, choosing to attend in-state public colleges, which are not majorly different from their private counterparts, can increase their profit from college. Only by taking independent action can students proactively attain the higher education they need at the low cost they want.

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