Is College Still Worth The Cost?

Depending on the major students choose, some may see negative lifetime earnings over time. Some degrees simply can’t keep up with the rising cost of university.

The decision to attend college or university can be a daunting one, especially considering the years of unaffordable debt aspiring students can potentially face. Without financial help from parents or guardians, college can be out of reach for many students. 

College May Not Be Worth It After All

Even still, the common consensus is this: get the degree, and the money will come after graduation. Yes, debt exists, but you can pay it all off once you start working and then some.  

Well, this thought process may not be completely accurate anymore as new analysis suggests that about 30% of students will never earn enough money to offset the price of their education. In other words, depending on the type of degree you get, you may be strapped with college debt forever if you aren’t careful. 

Are Students Ready to Make This Financial Choice?

Oftentimes, when students are deciding whether to attend college, they are faced with financial decisions that a typical high school graduate might not be aware enough of. This includes how education-related debt works and how much they can expect to earn from their degrees in their lifetime. 

All students want to enter college with the hope of getting a good job that helps them earn more money than they could ever have without a degree. Well, something that many students haven't considered is that a third of college degree programs will never lead to a positive return on their investment for the people who attend them. 

A new report from the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity analyzed how much people are spending on higher education versus how much they are earning over their lifetimes. 

What they found was rather shocking.

When is Going To College Worth It?

Financial returns do make going to college worth it for most majors, but it is highly dependent on the major that the students choose. This leads many students to choose trade schools over traditional colleges to optimize their financial returns or even pursue a field that they might hate but pays well. 

At the end of the day, students should look out for themselves in order to have enough money to pay the bills and live comfortably. 

On average, the degrees that provide the best return on investment include a bachelor’s degree in technical fields such as engineering, computer science, nursing, and economics. These degrees provide the biggest financial returns in relation to how expensive the degree is to obtain. 

With an engineering degree, for example, students can expect to have lifetime earnings of around $950,000. Nursing students can rake in as much as $618,000 in lifetime earnings.

Is The Fine Arts a Scam?

The same cannot be said for other fields, especially those within the fine arts. A bachelor’s degree in psychology, humanities, and literature is among the degrees with the lowest financial returns. In fact, on average, students pursuing a degree in the fine arts actually lose money over their lifetimes, to the tune of $88,000. This means that over a lifetime, factoring in the cost of their education, they will never make more than their degree costs to achieve.

Of course, there are ways to leverage your fine arts degree to make it more valuable. For example, with an English degree, you can potentially transition into a field such a marketing. However, students who are planning to specialize and stay within the fine arts may experience some financial headaches.

Is Trade School A New Option?

Another interesting finding from the research was that trade schools can offer higher returns on investment than traditional bachelor's degrees can. This is because the programs are shorter and cost less tuition on average. They also lead straight to higher-paying service jobs like HVAC, machining, and construction. These jobs often have higher hourly rates as the work is technical in nature and requires expertise and training. 

Still, even for trade school, the return on investment depends heavily on the field and specialization. A degree in cosmetology does not have the same weight as a degree in welding. 

Contrasting Degrees Have Big Financial Differences

Overall, the study found that almost a quarter of four-year degree programs have a negative return on investment over one’s lifetime. That number increases to 43% for two-year degree programs. 

An example can be seen with a bachelor's degree in drama from the University of Southern California. The program costs students over $160,000 for four years, but graduates only earn around $150,000 in lifetime earnings, meaning they lose $10,000 over their lifetime by taking on this program and paying full tuition for it. Not going to college and working at a fast food joint would make them more money in the long term. 

Meanwhile, getting a computer science degree from a school such as Princeton University can see lifetime earnings of over $7 million, making picking the right major all the more important in today’s economy.

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