I grew up in a large, middle-class family without a college fund waiting for me after graduation. After high school, I had two options: work in the local manufacturing plant or go to college. I never thought about not going to college. It was just an assumption that I’d be able to afford to go, whether through loans, grants or a job. At the time, my annual tuition was only a few thousand dollars. Although it seemed like a lot of money at the time, I knew I’d be able to get a good job when I graduated and it would be money well spent.
Today’s high school students and their families are facing a different scenario. Without many full-time jobs available to high school graduates, a college education sounds like a great idea, but the increasing cost of college coupled with the uncertainty of job availability after college are of great concern to high school students and their families. This concern is further fueled by the fact that many college students will graduate at least $25,000 in debt and many of the same graduates will only make $30,000 at their first job. Having a $25,000 student loan to repay on a $30,000 annual salary is not easy. It’s inevitable that students may question whether a college degree is really worth it. They might wonder if they can still realize their full potential and achieve their dreams without a college education.
I believe the economy will rebound—although it most likely won’t recover to pre-2008 levels. Sure, college isn’t for everyone and students can still realize some professional achievements without a college degree. However, I believe the underlying principles that made a college education the right choice for me 34 years ago are still the same. A college education opens more doors and provides students more opportunities during their working life. The college experience broadens a person’s perspective about the world, other cultures, diversity and most importantly, themselves. It’s difficult to replicate this experience outside of college. But now, more than ever, students need to be strategic about their field of study. There are so many interesting courses and degrees available. Choose one you are passionate about, but also that has practical applications in the future economy. Then, the cost of college will certainly be worth it.