Value of college questioned with high loans and unemployment

College Graduates

More people question whether the cost of college is worth it, and there are compelling arguments on both sides. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The past few months have featured a lot of coverage about the booming levels of student loans. Unlike other installment loans, there’s no way to discharge the debt, and many students are left holding the bag with fewer opportunities for decent employment. Many are questioning whether college is worth it.

College not worth it, says wide swaths of media

One may notice that similar columns appear on various news and opinion sites bearing a headline implying “College is not worth it” and some that assert the opposite. Billionaire Peter Thiel controversially offered anyone willing to drop out of or forgo college a personal loan from him of $100,000 to start a business. One of the people who took Thiel’s offer wrote a column for CNN stating college wasn’t worth it because it stifled entrepreneurial innovation. The author of a recent column on the Reuters website, John Wasik, contends that because tuition has risen 467 percent since 1986 whileinflation rose 106 percent, the cost of college may not be worth it because real wages are not keeping pace with inflation.

College pays off, but for whom?

College, though, does pay off for some people. In fact, the student loans pay particularly well for some people. The government, according to the Wall Street Journal, makes more money on student loans that are defaulted on than on loans that are paid religiously. Current estimates are that 85 percent of all defaulted students loans will end up being collected. Not only that, but the government expects to collect up to $1.22 on every dollar of student loans that are outstanding and in default. Credit card companies, by comparison, usually make about 10 percent of all defaulted debts back. The reason is that defaulting on student loans is different from other kinds of loans. The typical personal loan from a bank can be discharged in bankruptcy, and a house or car can be repossessed.

Average experience says college worth it

Going by the numbers, there appears to be a real incentive to attending a four-year institution and emerging with a bachelor’s degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the college educated have an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent as of May of 2011. Those with only a high school diploma have an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent. According to the U.S. Census, men with a high school diploma or equivalency in 2009 earned on average $36,332 and women earned $22,868. Men with a bachelor’s degree earned, on average, $70,568 and women with a bachelor’s earned $42,128 on average, per year.




Wall Street Journal

Bureau of Labor Statistics on Unemployment

Census page on income (requires Microsoft Excel to download tables)