Is a college degree today worth the cost? Fifty-five percent of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say it is.
In a 2012 Snap Poll that posed the same question, 65 percent of poll participants answered yes.
In the wake of the Great Recession, studies showed that many bachelor’s degree-holders under age 25 were jobless or underemployed, and their prospects were the weakest in more than a decade. The outlook has improved in the last few years, but the recession’s impact has lingered.
More than half of respondents to this week’s poll—56 percent—say that compared with before the Great Recession, the value of a college degree has decreased. This compares with roughly a quarter who say it has increased, and nearly one in five who say it hasn’t changed at all.
A 2015 study by the Economic Policy Institute found that while unemployment and underemployment rates among young graduates are improving, they remain substantially higher than before the recession began. And inflation-adjusted wages are lower than in 2000. “Due to young college graduates’ limited job opportunities, stagnating wages, and the rising cost of higher education, college is becoming an increasingly difficult investment,” the report stated.
Another 2015 report, from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, painted a brighter picture. It stated that over a career, college graduates on average earn $1 million more than those with only a high school diploma. But, the authors added, “averages are misleading: college graduates with the highest-paying majors earn $3.4 million more than the lowest-paying majors.” Of the 25 highest-paid majors, all but two—economics and business economics—are in a STEM field.
Meanwhile, the cost of an undergraduate education continues to rise. Rochester Institute of Technology recently said the total cost—including tuition, room, board and various school fees—for the 2016-17 academic year would increase to $50,842. At the University of Rochester, the total cost will be $64,078. Financial aid also is increasing at both schools: to $171 million at RIT and $122 million at UR.
Nearly 620 respondents participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted May 2 and 3.
In today’s economy, is a college degree generally worth the cost?
Yes: 55% No: 45%
In your view, compared with before the Great Recession has the value of a college degree increased or decreased?
Increased: 26% Decreased: 56% No change: 18%
For information on how the Snap Polls are conducted, click here.
An educated populace is a great thing—the price of education may be worth it; it may not be worth it. However, what is hard to understand at this point is what should it cost to educate someone? With all the government money muddying the waters, colleges and universities look more like day spas melded together with athletic compounds. I’m sure they try to educate people when they aren’t busy processing their tuition checks or dedicating a new building.
—Kenya Burn-Moore, Rochester
Sooner or later this madness is going to stop. There are only so many people who are going to be able to afford the cost of college, and it sure isn’t going to be the middle class. My first class at RIT in 1969 (English 101) cost $94; today, same class $1,400 plus. This is nuts. Great school, but the cost is outrageous. I feel real sorry for the class of 2017 and their parents.
—Ken Pamatat, Creative Images
A college degree teaches you to think creatively, and that will get you many places that you would not be able to reach otherwise. The cost is high, but the lack of the skills will cost more.
The answer to this question differs greatly depending upon the students’ chosen majors and how diligent they are in their studies. I believe that students do need to be realistic about the schools they can/cannot afford to attend. Our public universities offer a high-quality education at a more affordable price.
—Juli Klie, Veritor
The trades should be brought back into the curriculum of the high schools. There are too many students wanting corporate jobs. Corporations are not replacing retired workers. Instead, they are spreading the retired person’s job to others. I know employees at Xerox who have had their responsibilities enhanced at the same pay as their previous duties. They haven’t received a raise in more than 10 years. Colleges are big business. They keep raising tuition. They all have a lot of adjunct professors who have no benefits, teach many more classes than the tenured professors, and haven’t had a raise in years. However, these adjuncts are expected to give the students all the knowledge and outside connections as the tenured. The students don’t pay less tuition to take a class taught by an adjunct! Student loans are based on the parent’s or co-signer’s income. Maybe those loans should be based on the student’s income! If a student went into the trades, became a journeyman, they would be making very good income in rewarding, challenging careers.
State universities and community colleges or a combination of community college and private universities seem to make the most financial sense.
Many students would be far better to go to community colleges and SUNY to get their degrees for less. Employers don’t pay more for candidates with a high-end college, so why should students?
—Joel Stauring, Cunningham, Stauring & Associates Inc.
The cost-benefit analysis of a college education will not improve until costs are controlled by the elimination of teacher union retirement and health benefits. Let us not forget that they receive these payments in addition to Social Security and Medicare. Their students cannot hope to see the same benefits in their lives unless they become teachers or become government employees. Everyone else is made to pay for these union benefits (leeches) through higher education costs and taxes. The quality of education has not improved with these increased costs. Shouldn’t there be some correlation?
—Michael Higgins, Rochester
Students are almost always pushed to go to college. The U.S. should give equal attention to students at age 16 or 17 to consider apprenticeship programs in the trades. Other countries do this, and the trades-people often do as well or better than the college graduates.
—Ed Jackson, retired
College except for high-level tech and all medical fields is a scam. It’s just another money-maker. Eighty percent of college programs can easily be replaced with on-the-job training. It’s all about the “benjamins.” Most college professors are just failed workers.
It’s not an either-or question. Yes college is worthwhile for many and necessary for some, but not every college or field of study is the same, and not all need it. For most, the high-priced schools are unnecessary. Monroe Community College does a fantastic job of getting people to graduate and then get jobs as do many of the SUNY schools, assuming they study STEM or something disciplined leading to likely jobs. College isn’t worth it if students can’t get jobs because the schools are worthless or the degree pointless. Never go in debt beyond one year anticipated salary. As one of the most-regulated and tax-subsidized industries, colleges and the government have distorted market linkages.
—Dave Giambattista, Fairport
If everyone has a college degree, they will be worthless.
A college degree is still beneficial in seeking a job, and certainly any professional position. However, it has been made less of a factor with us due to the following trends: a) colleges are really not teaching kids much these days that translates into business skills, like how to write a clear, grammatically correct paragraph, how to express yourself verbally or how to do research into complex issues and then analyze them—frankly, the young people we see applying for jobs in the past 10 years seem to have spent a lot of time being indoctrinated about political issues but not learning the basics of how to research, analyze and communicate; b) colleges are administratively bloated, pushing up tuition, resulting in huge debt the kids have to carry for less education than we received 20 to 30 years ago; the cost-benefit curve has shifted dramatically; and c) anyone who sends in a resume with a major in the “social justice” courses is fooling themselves if they think they are qualified for anything other than a government job. Kids graduating with a degree in something like sociology or diversity studies with huge student loan debt is starting life in a very deep hole.
It costs way too much to go to college, and it keeps spiraling. It’s an accepted fact from the colleges and society your kids can come out with $50,000 or more in debt from school no matter what degree they pursue; and for what? Possibly no jobs and a debt that could last well into their 40s. Not acceptable, but it’s hard to fight the system—but I keep trying.
When I got my MBA right after Fisher, I never felt that I received an equivalent value for its cost. In fact, a manager with a Harvard MBA once told me in the early years that he felt that two years in the golf or bowling leagues leveled the playing field! But, 30 years later when I switched professions, that MBA saved the cost of at least 30 more graduate hours and three years in the certification process. Short-term perspective: wasted time and money; long-term perspective: well worth it.
—Jerry McCabe, Irondequoit
A college degree is definitely worth the cost if you major in a STEM or other in-demand field like my daughters did, and it’s worthwhile in many other fields as well. But not everyone needs to go to college, and parents should advise their kids not to take on large amounts of debt to do so. There are many ways to save on a college education such as going to community college for two years or going to a free school (e.g., College of the Ozarks).
—Karen Zilora, Creative Scanning Solutions Inc.
This is not a simple yes or no question. Obviously, it depends upon what degree you pursue, what it costs and where you go to college. The management of many big-name universities—even the public’s—has increasingly given way to the “CEO” model for higher education that means very highly paid administrators make decisions without concern for universities’ core missions. Costs may continue to climb so long as the federal government guarantees student loans. I also worry that “point in time” certifications will become increasingly irrelevant as time goes on. If you get a degree in computer science, it will do you no good unless you constantly reeducate yourself throughout your career. I don’t think the Great Recession had as much impact on the value of a degree as the other factors I mention here.
—John Calia, Fairport
We live in a knowledge and information society. With most employers, you get “paid” for what you know in addition to the value of your skill sets you bring to the table. If your field of knowledge is viewed as a commodity, you assuredly shall be compensated marginally. Know your value and “sell” yourself as aggressively in the negotiation and hiring stage.
—S. Torrance May
A college degree is worth the cost if spent on a meaningful degree that will allow the person that earned it to add value to society. Unfortunately, there are far too many degrees granted that are worthless in today’s society and economy.
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield
Career choices are mandatory for getting jobs after graduation. School guidance counselors need to inform graduating students in high school whether their major will get them a good job upon graduation. Then decide where the best “bang-for-their-buck” college will get them to their goal. Hard work during college years has to be emphasized as well as rising up the ladder of success to get that goal. You might not get there immediately, but persistence pays off in dividends!
—Ruth Ditch, Delta Square Inc.
It always will be valuable for someone who worked to further their education past high school. The focus on what to study is becoming critical for graduates. I still challenge colleges and universities to explain their cost and why expenses are increasing at such a rapid rate. On the flip side, should companies and businesses “recruit” out of high school and train employees? If they see a need, send them to college to gain specific knowledge.
A college degree will never guarantee anyone a job. No matter how much you paid for your education. Hard work and experience is what pays off.
The issue is not the really the “worth,” but rather the “why.” Many graduates from low- and mid-level colleges enter the workforce with suffocating debt and no useful learning. They end up living in their parents’ basements for lack of a job. Many of these kids would be better off in a skilled job having earned four years of wages and have no $150,000 debt to pay back. Cost of college has risen to ridiculous levels due to the ease of obtaining loans and financial aid. Wish I could have customers that are willing to pay more for my products since they can get help from the government. I’d just keep raising my prices and let the taxpayer pay for it. If another progressive gets to be president, he’ll forgive the college debt, which will cost the taxpayers another trillion dollar bailout!
—Art Elting, Palmyra
The rising costs of college coupled with stagnant wages over the last decade give us good reason to question whether the expense is worth it. But too many valuable and satisfying 21st century careers require undergraduate and advanced degrees. The best course of action for the college-bound is to avoid paying full price. Fortunately, Rochester is home to many amazing school counselors and college admissions consultants who help families find the best tuition packages possible.
—Mike Bergin, Chariot Learning
College education is now completely subsidized by federal loans, which mitigated the financial pressure on students and families. College would be much less expensive if it weren’t for these loans. Most diplomas are like job hunting licenses with no guarantee you’ll bag your quarry. A two-year school with a technical degree now makes the most sense.
—Clifford Jacobson M.D., Vanguard Psychiatric Services PC
The issue is not one of whether a college degree is worth it, but what a young person’s major is and the quality reputation of the institution from which they graduate. If the latter, the answer is clearly yes. If not, it is a big maybe!
—Hal Gaffin, Fairport
“Great Recession?” You mean 2008-2011? That wasn’t any type of “great recession.” Be serious.
Rough question. I would say it depends on your degree. If you are going in for art—probably not worth it. Technology fields where your salary ranges upon graduation, worth it.
—Ryan Peck, Rochester
This is one of those questions that ask for us to consider the world economy and the downside of limiting the educational opportunities for our children on the basis of cost. Certainly the Great Recession has put a huge dent in the ability of students/families to self-fund college. In a large part, this is related to colleges themselves. Now devoted to research, reputation and revenue, they stand squarely in the way of education for our children and grandchildren. But what is the alternative? A return to skilled trades such as electrician, plumber, carpenter, bakers and so forth. Necessary services, but wanting in a world economy increasingly slanted toward electronics, computer engineers, scientists, physicians and so forth. I have no good solution to the outrageous explosion of college tuition and fees. That is pure greed on the part of elite private institutions. I might go so far as to say that there is a movement afoot to create a new American royalty class through our system of education. However, those negatives don’t outweigh the value of college in the long term. We can’t base our children’s future on some aberration in college cost structures, instead we should be looking for serious proposals from the political arena to guarantee college for all of those qualified students.
—Wayne Donner, Rush
To put this in perspective, few, if any, schools actually collect the “list price” tuition rates cited in the survey. Most everyone gets a “discount” in one form or another (financial aid, scholarship, award, grant). The average price paid by students remains the most closely guarded secret at all universities. Second, for a degree to have worth, it must increase the recipient’s value to those who pay wages. College students selecting majors in fields with market demand do better economically than those choosing fields of study for which economic demand is void. Thus college-bound students are wise to include economic factors in their deliberation between “following a passion” and “following the demand.” Happiness and wealth don’t always correlate.
—Dorver Kendig, Webster
Saturday was my birthday. I am 65. Until one gets to my age, how would one know? It all depends upon what knowledge is taught in college, what subjects and lessens (separately) are learned in college, and what one takes out of college. I will say that from my vantage point there are a whole lot of kids who are wasting their time; they finish college clueless.
Regardless of the cost, a college degree is all but mandatory if you want to get ahead in any company. Without it, you will stay in a dead in job making much less than your potential. So in the end, a college degree ends up being worth the money.
Higher education is always worth the cost and benefits our entire society. A well-educated citizen is essential to the strength and overall success of our nation.
Although I have indicated that the value of a college degree has decreased, it is a necessity. In general, I do not see the added value for the cost of a private university. I went to a Pennsylvania state school and got an excellent education at a reasonable price. Students should re-evaluate the incremental debt for a non-state school.
A college degree is worth the money, however, students, their parents and advisers have a responsibility to explore several things when making decisions about college, to be discerning consumers of higher education. First, are the student’s skills and interests best suited to college or to a trade school? There are many good jobs that can support a family to be gained via trade schools. Next, what is the expected salary in the field being studied vs. the cost of tuition? What is the demand in the desired field? If the field will not yield a massive salary, one might not want to study at an Ivy League school. If the field is flooded with candidates, then one might want to change majors so one can find a job after completing the degree. Students and families will have a better long-term outcome if they ask these questions, are realistic, and are discerning consumers of higher education. Some students are better off obtaining a relatively affordable associates degree at a community college before transferring to the more expensive school. Some are better off studying at a state school vs. Ivy League. One size does not fit all.
Too much emphasis on college, yet manufacturing is screaming for the trades. We need to make a stronger commitment in training for the trades, toolmakers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, auto mechanics, etc. Shop class should be introduced and promoted early in the education system. Math is extremely important as part of that process, including how to apply in real-life situations. Too many kids come out of high school totally unprepared for the job environment, and yet set sights on a “college education” as anything else is no good. Perhaps businesses are so fed up with what comes out of high school that they only consider a college degree to eliminate having to take that chance?
As change accelerates, a broad education is increasingly necessary. We do need to do a better job of controlling costs.
Every day in my work I still use what I learned in both my undergraduate and MBA years—and this is many decades later. As a history major in college, it is not the history that I use, but the ability to read critically and write analytically. Those are lifelong skills. Even more importantly, in college you learn how to learn—and that is perhaps the most fundamental take-away from those four years if done well. Lifelong learning makes for a fulfilling and gratifying life, no matter who you are. My MBA then gave me the specific skills—in my case the ability to think strategically and tactically—that I use every day, in every project, for every client. Thirty years at the helm of a market research firm, working with all sorts of bright and capable people who have built their careers on solid educational foundations, have convinced me of the value of a college degree. Perhaps not for everyone, and not for every career choice. One can certainly succeed in many aspects of life without a degree. And doors don’t fly open just because you earn a diploma. But I firmly believe that over the course of a lifetime you will encounter far more opportunities for success with a college degree than you will without one. My own life—and my career—would clearly be very different today were it not for those two university degrees and all that I learned and experienced during those six challenging years. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
—Jocelyn Goldberg-Schaible, president, Rochester Research Group
College expenses continue to increase over the rate of inflation. Unfortunately, many colleges are not being run to control costs. There is a perceived value of the education by the tuition being charged. The value of education should be determined by the placement rate and starting salaries of each field of study. Since our government provides funds for the majority of all colleges, the funds provided should be based on placement rates, starting salaries and controlling the cost of education. This data should be available for all students considering college. Many degrees are not worth the cost of college today. There are people today that would be better served by not going to college and pursuing a trade. The individual has to be willing to put in the time and effort to do well whether it is college or learning a valued trade. If they are not willing to put in the time and effort, college can be a waste of money.
—Mike Hogan, Information Packaging Corp.
5/6/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.