For many young adults growing up, it’s a given that they will attend college some of them even consult a college planner that will guide them to choose what is the best college course to take up and in what should they enroll. It’s simply the natural order of things: You go to elementary and high school, you get a college degree in your field of choice, and you go on to get a job and make a good living in your field of choice.
The only problem is, what happens if you don’t wind up earning enough money in that job? Many young graduates find that although they have done the work to get the degree and secure employment, the resulting value of their college degrees does not add up to a sizable income.
Previous studies have estimated the value of a college degree around $1 million; however, this estimate does not necessarily account for tuition, lost wages and future earnings. The intergovernmental Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development suggests that the true net value of a U.S. college degree is actually closer to $325,000.
These figures therefore beg the question: Is college really worth it? Let’s examine the pros and cons.
College Versus High School Graduates
A 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) jobs report shows that 95 percent of college graduates have jobs, despite the recession that dominated in years prior. In contrast, high school graduates with no college experience have a 9.6 unemployment rate. For those without a high school degree, 14.6 percent of them are jobless.
These numbers do not specify the type of jobs that college grads are taking, however. They may, in fact, be working in underemployed positions as a result of the difficult economic times, simply to make ends meet. At the same time, BLS data suggests that these workers are unlikely to remain underemployed over time.
The highest-earning jobs tend to result from undergrad college degrees in engineering, according to PayScale.com’s 2011-2012 College Salary Report. At the top of the list: petroleum engineering, where the starting median salary is $97,900. Meanwhile, careers in education bottomed out the list, with the starting median salary of a child and family studies major at $29,600.
The Merits of Vocational School
If petroleum engineering isn’t your cup of tea, perhaps vocational school is the answer. Benefits of vocational studies include:
· Short-term courses. In a matter of six months or a year, you could potentially finish a vocational studies course and start looking for jobs. This puts you in the work force more quickly than a four-year degree. Plus, you will be studying only the subjects that apply to your vocation, rather than spending time studying undergrad subjects that do not necessarily relate to your field of study.
· Smaller classrooms. Vocational schools tend to have smaller class sizes. You will get more one-on-one attention from instructors, helping you to build professional relationships that could result in positive letters of recommendation to future employers.
· A positive hiring environment. Some employers prefer to hire employees who have hands-on industry training. In Europe, for example, there is a high demand for skilled professionals. These employees often have the expertise to step into a job quickly without a great deal of training.
If you like the idea of specializing in a niche, then vocational education might be a good option for you. For a more well-rounded approach to education, consider a four-year degree or a community college (see below).
The Benefits of Community College
If you are not yet sure where you want your education to take you, then community college is an excellent starting point. The costs of tuition, room and board are often a fraction of the cost of a university. Therefore, you can spend the first couple years of your college education exploring different types of subjects without spending a fortune.
Community colleges also offer the ability to sharpen vocational skills, with many of these colleges offering associate degrees in vocation-oriented programs. You also have the ability to transfer credits to a four-year college once you decide on a course of study. (Check with a college counselor to determine which courses to take in order to achieve transfer status.)
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of community college education is that students can take advantage of flexible scheduling. Working parents and other adults can fit in classes around work schedules and child care, so they can earn income while also working toward a degree.
A Personal Choice
Only you can decide if a college education is right for you. Weigh your options carefully before settling on a program. Perhaps spend some time with a mentor in your desired field of study who can advise you on the best course of action. Lastly, always be willing to change directions, whether by course of study or career, if one path does not suit your needs.
About the Author
Karen E. Spaeder writes frequently on college planningand financing as well as retirement and financial planning. Her articles appear at College Funding Resource, FinancialMentor.com and several other online publications. Although Karen holds both an undergrad and a graduate degree, she also loves furthering her education through vocational studies such as yoga teacher training.