Experts say college remains valuable investment

Jenna Alswager, a December graduate of Doane College, worries about paying off her student loans and continuing education.

Story by Christina Condreay | NewsNetNebraska

With graduate school applications due, resume writing workshops to attend and December graduation approaching, a new class of college graduates is preparing to enter a tough workforce. National unemployment is hovering at 7.9 percent. Politicians warn that going over the “fiscal cliff” could spark another recession.

Many of those future graduates, and their families, are asking if college was worth it.

“I’ve had to work throughout college,” Doane College senior Jenna Alswager said.

The psychology major and December graduate plans to attend graduate school, another investment she hopes will pay off.

“Once I graduate, I will have to search for something that may not be as enjoyable but pays more … just to pay back my loans and continue to feed myself.”

The cost of college is not limited to those who attend a private institution. University of Nebraska – Lincoln senior global studies major Aaron Tharp said his major wouldn’t be worth much if it weren’t for the Army.

“I’m just glad I have ROTC to pay for my tuition, otherwise I’d be $30,000 in debt and not have a decent job,” Tharp said.

Student debt

Like Tharp, 44 percent of UNL students are able to pay for college using scholarships and awards, according to UNL Institutional Research and Planning. About 53 percent of UNL students pay for college with loans. These are a combination of need-based, parent and private student loans.

The average UNL student graduates with about $20,000 in student loans, according to UNL’s Career Services and Scholarships and Financial Aid.

Including students from private schools, a Pew Research Center report states the number jumps to more than $24,000 statewide. The average American college graduate will leave school with more than $26,000 in debt, according to the same study.

For UNL senior Christian Habib, the value of a degree comes from more than the paper it’s printed on.

“I feel like I know what I want to do, and as long as I push myself, I’ll be successful,” the senior history and philosophy major said.

Value of an education

He is likely to. A report released by Georgetown University’s Center on Workforce and Education states that over a lifetime, people with a college diploma will make 84 percent more than those with only a high school one. While there is a difference for men and women, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development states the benefit of going to college is greater than the cost at about four times for men and two and half times for women.

UNL professor of economics Carlos Asarta said a significant difference in salary is apparent even the lowest 1 percent of wage earners.

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average weekly earnings increase in every range with increased education,” Asarta said.

The cost of college includes more than just the price tag. Opportunity cost, or the value lost by not working in addition to the value of the education, is also included in many of these figures. Students may give up four years in the full-time workforce to attend a college, which adds to the burden of schooling.

How quickly it pays off is likely to depend on the degree.

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Unemployment

According the Georgetown University report, recent graduates with degrees in education and health are tied at 5.4 percent unemployment, the lowest rate of all degree-holders. The most unemployed are those with architecture degrees at 13.9 percent unemployed.

Art degree-holders don’t have it much better. Their unemployment rate is about 11 percent.

UNL alum Zach Janky graduated with degrees in film and new media and advertising. He works at an advertising agency editing commercials and designing motion graphics, though it wasn’t easy to get there.

“I graduated in December 2010 and received my first full-time job offer in August 2011,” Janky wrote in an email. “Finding a job that relates to the arts can be difficult.

Janky worked every day to find a relevant career, whether it was sending out resumes or improving his skills.

“Between graduating and getting hired, I continued tweaking my demo reel and created new projects just to add to my portfolio.”

Salary potential

It is unlikely that arts and humanities majors like Janky and Habib will out-earn their engineering classmates. Engineering degree-holders will earn a little less than double, $55,000 a year compared to $30,000, what arts and humanities majors will make. Architects may have a harder time entering the workforce, but their average salaries of $36,000 tend to be greater than the $33,000 earned by educators.

A bachelor’s degree will pay off, though. Even the lowest-paid degree recipient will make $5,000 more every year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Economists estimate that every extra year of education adds about 8 percent to yearly earnings.

Earning  a higher salary isn’t the only reason to go to college, according to Habib.

“If I just went to school, I don’t think my education would be worth it,” Habib said. “(It’s in my) activities where I learned about myself and the real world.

“If it weren’t for my involvement, I don’t think I’d be happy with my degree from UNL.”

The real value of college, according to UNL junior accounting and German major Kristen Wittmuss, comes outside the classroom in the form of growing up and experiencing the world.

“Though the reason we go college is to get an education, you get more when you’re there, and it’s worth the cost,” she said.

 

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