A few months ago, my wife came down with the flu, and I was stuck at home on a Saturday night. After twenty minutes of channel surfing, I discovered that there are few good TV choices on a Saturday night. I settled on Suze Orman’s show which I rarely watch (and it has nothing to do with professional reasons).
During the audience participation segment of the show, a handsome young man was chosen to share his story. About five years ago, this gentleman decided to get an MBA. At the time, he’d been working as a waiter and was tired of being on his feet day and night. Besides, he was pushing thirty and wanted to make a better life for himself. So he enrolled in graduate school, graduated with honors, and then the economy tanked. As a newly minted MBA, he couldn’t find a job and, well, you guessed it…he went back to waiting tables.
Even worse, he took out over $100,000 in loans to fund his post-graduate education and ultimately discovered that his student loan payments were too high for him to keep up with his rent, insurance, and other living expenses. He declared bankruptcy to alleviate himself of this large debt burden and then ran into a hard, cold truth: you cannot discharge most educational loans by declaring bankruptcy. Well, Suze listened to his unfortunate story and was just about in tears when there was absolutely no advice she could give this young man to resolve his situation.
The cost of post-secondary education today leaves many parents and students alike asking: is a college degree really worth it? Is it worth going into debt, a debt that could exceed a monthly rent or mortgage payment for years ahead? Adding to the burden, there is no guarantee that today’s graduate will land a decent paying job when they enter the workforce. So, what do I tell my clients who worry about educating their children?
First, I don’t think we should look at an education in terms of simply “dollars and cents”. We can’t look at just one side of the ledger or the other in trying to answer the question: Is a college degree worth it? Getting a college degree won’t necessarily guarantee you an envious lifestyle, but I think most of you would agree that it’s still a trusted course of action for gaining economic opportunity, for acquiring better earning power. Moreover, it’s a crucial part of the equation in breaking the cycle of poverty. So, as hard as it may be for some, we need to look beyond the price tag of a degree.
Higher learning is intended to open minds and enrich lives beyond the books, the papers, and the lectures. Students learn to live and study among other students of different races, creeds, and cultures. An education offers an elevated awareness. Moreover, it can foster a lasting desire to preserve a higher culture. You’re asking, of course: “What about the escalating debt?” Well, one of the reasons that college debt is so high is because state governments have cut back their funding. Also, state governments, whose schools educate seven out of 10 students, have jacked up tuition because of their own financial problems.
I would guess that most of you have had a chance to walk through the door of opportunity. Don’t slam it shut behind you. For instance, next time you get a call or letter from your alma mater’s development office, make a contribution to the endowment. After all, you had a chance to get a degree, to better your life. Help someone else do the same. Or, what may be even more valuable than your money is your time. Mentor a young graduate. How much easier would it have been for you to enhance your skills, to compete in the market place, if you had had an experienced and wiser person guiding you? With your encouragement and mentorship, a young graduate might be able to pay off his or her student loan debt even sooner, all while making a difference in this world.
So instead of asking, “Is it worth it?” maybe we should be asking, “What we can do to make it worth it?” Is the cost of ignorance much higher than a college education?
Going to college might cost a lot, but not going could cost you more.