Is College Debt Worth It?

What you study and where you study it matters, especially if you're going to be sinking into debt while completing a degree. There has been some research that illustrates this:
First, the notion that college graduates have a comparatively low unemployment or underemployment rate is misleading. The table below shows that "low" unemployment isn't so low among recent graduates, though people over 30 with college degrees do have lower unemployment than the national average.

Second, even those with jobs are often not in jobs that require any college education. As you will read below, as many as 40 percent of graduates in the humanities are working in positions that do not require a four-year degree.

Recent College Graduates

MajorUnemploymentSalary
Engineering7.5$55,000
Computers8.246,000
Business7.439,000
Social Science8.937,000
Law and Policy8.134,000
Education5.433,000
Agriculture7.032,000
Life Sciences7.732,000
Arts11.130,000
Liberal Arts9.431,000

If you study a performing art, the return on investment simply isn't there unless you are already a special talent. If you're attending an Ivy League or noted arts college, you might do okay, but an art major graduating from a state university? You'll be struggling.

Note: I am posting this to two blogs because the topics of student debt and public rhetoric intersect in multiple ways.

Consider the following article.

Students take Debt 101 and lose out

http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/opinion/jack-kelly/students-take-debt-101-and-lose-out-650567August 26, 2012 12:22 am
By Jack Kelly / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Real wages for recent college graduates have fallen nearly 5 percent from 2007 to 2011. More than 40 percent of recent college graduates work in jobs that do not require a college education. There are 323,000 waiters and waitresses, 115,000 janitors and 83,000 bartenders with college degrees.

The unemployment rate for Americans aged 18-29 is 50 percent higher than the national average. It's higher among college grads than among young people generally. A majority (53.6 percent) of college graduates under 25 are unemployed or underemployed, the AP reported in April.
When colleges and universities report the number of graduates working, those numbers are manipulated. One admissions employee at a public college told me that a sales clerk with a business degree was being counted as employed in her field of study. I'm sure that's a standard, since you can't find any college admitting to a 60 percent career placement rate. A quick skim of websites for colleges in my area shows near-universal success for graduates. For the schools making any claims about graduate success, employment rates range from a mid-80 percent success rate to a school claiming a near perfect employment record among graduates.

Where are the schools with the 50 percent employment success rates? If other schools have graduates landing great jobs in their fields of study, then there must be institutions with lousy success rates.

Of course, success requires graduating. Students aren't graduating at levels you might expect.
Only 60 percent who start college get a degree. More acquire debt. To encourage young people to matriculate who lack the ability or inclination to do college work does them no favors.
I have to admit, I've seen too many students at universities unprepared for the work. That's been true at state teaching universities, research universities, and private universities. We have a serious problem when so many students enter college with high school diplomas but not the skills those diplomas should represent. These students are unlikely to graduate, but they will have lots of debt.

We are offering an increasing number of remedial courses, usually for no credit. Students need these courses, sadly. And don't misunderstand me: some students will be "saved" by the opportunities provided by these courses. However, too many of these students will leave the college campus without a degree.

Students struggling in math or basic English aren't going to be graduating with STEM degrees. Our college students are choosing majors that don't have the best employment prospects because (and this is a generalization) many are unprepared for demanding science and technology degree programs. There are brilliant students in the humanities, so we then need to ask how we can attract more of those students to the STEM fields.
Those with STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) have little difficulty finding well-paid work, but only about 15 percent of grads have them. More major in the visual and performing arts than in engineering.
The conclusion of Mr. Kelly's column is a bit harsh, but he might have a point.
A student who borrows $97,000 to obtain an "interdisciplinary degree in religious and women's studies" is chiefly responsible for her plight. But those who offer such a degree are running a con, not a school. Even smart kids do stupid things, because they're kids. Adults who mislead and exploit them have much to answer for.
I wonder what the future holds for the generation graduating during this economic downturn. Debt and what else?

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