Is Higher Education Worth the Investment in This Economy?

Feb 4, 2013
  |  by Jennifer Cook

The rising cost of education is definitely a hot topic of debate, and more than a few pundits and entrepreneurs debate that the cost of higher education can’t be justified. But I disagree; mostly because it’s such a more complicated question than a simple yes-or-no question can possibly answer.

Calculating the Cost of a College Degree

The cost-benefit analysis that every student goes through definitely involves a calculation that includes a bunch of factors. You have to include the cost of tuition, books, housing and even commuting. If your program isn’t flexible enough with your job, you may even have to take less money or work part time like so many students do while attending traditional colleges and universities.

Tuition ranges widely between 2-year and 4-year colleges, and traditional private universities tend to be much more expensive than their public counterparts. An online bachelor’s degree could offer you significant savings compared to a regular university, especially if the online degree program you choose will help you graduate in fewer semesters than the traditional program.

Will You Have a Job When You Graduate?

The unemployment rate is definitely a concern. The unemployment rate is dropping nationwide, but it still remains just under 8%. And depending on where you live, what field you plan on going into, and the state of the economy when you graduate, your job prospects could be much different.

It depends on your industry. Right now, there’s a heavy demand for computer science, health care and other sciences. Business majors are doing well in this economy, too. So the prospects for those with an online business degree or advanced training of any kind in the sciences definitely have a rosy employment outlook.

The demand for the degree you’re working toward also has a lot do with the “benefit” side of the cost-benefit equation. What salary are you likely to get when you graduate based on your degree and your previous experience? The Census Bureau’s data for 2011 on earnings based on college degree helps shed some light on which degree programs pay off more. Workers with degrees in science and engineering degrees did significantly better than those with liberal arts and humanities degrees. Peoples with those degrees also experienced less unemployment overall.

That report also illustrates the continuing value of additional education. Advanced degrees provided a big boost for workers no matter what their field, but the earnings boost for having a master’s degree or doctorate in business or the sciences was significantly bigger (by tens of thousands of dollars in some cases).

Balancing the Higher Education Equation

Where the rubber meets the road, of course is in how your life improves, both financially and otherwise, as a result of higher education. What kind of lifestyle do you expect, with what cost of living, once you graduate? What portion of your budget will you be able to dedicate to paying for the costs of getting the degree?

To answer those questions, you have to combine all the real costs described above, factor in the financial aid you may be eligible for, and then consider how much debt you might need to take on overall to finance your degree. Based on your likely salary and your growing earning power over the next several years, if you can pay down those student loans over the next decade or so, I would say it was definitely worth the money, not to mention the effort of studying.

Of course, if you go to an Ivy League school for 4 to 6 years you’re going to graduate with a mountain of debt. The question is can you land a job that will make it realistic for you to pay down that debt?

Then there is the psychological benefit of gaining a degree. It’s hard to put into numbers the satisfaction of working at a job that challenges you rather than a mentally and physically exhausting dead-end job. Add to that the likelihood that you’ll have a job that provides better benefits, more vacation days and other perks, and it becomes clear that higher education definitely is worth it.


Author bio: Jennifer Cook writes on student life, going back to school and online learning technology for When she isn't writing, you can track her down in the library, trying to check out more books than her card allows.



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