Career Key

Author: Career Key's President and CEO, Juliet Wehr Jones, GCDF, J.D.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Does college pay?

I've recently seen in the Seattle Times an article questioning whether college pays, citing's figures that it takes 14 years for a college graduate's salary, net of loan payments, to equal that of a high-school graduate. I've seen other concerns raised about the high costs of going to college, but I don't think that changes the fact that college graduates have access to higher-paying jobs over a lifetime.

The only downside I see to getting a college degree is if you make a poorly researched career choice and spend the money for a type of degree that becomes practically useless when you want to change careers later. So for example, if you complete an Investigative major like engineering and later want to become a museum curator (or vice versa), you may have to start from scratch with taking classes. Reading Dr. Jones's ePublication, Choosing Your College Major will help you make a good decision that avoids this trap.

I've also seen criticisms of parents who leave the traditional workforce to take care of children, which some view as a "waste" of the degree. But I reject that conclusion because (a) skills and knowledge gained from a degree help to raise a child and run a household, (b) many of these parents start businesses, and (c) the degree serves as a safety net so that if circumstance (divorce, financial, or kids leaving home) necessitates a return to work, that parent will have better job opportunities.

An alternative to an expensive college degree is technical training in a particular field where you can learn valuable, transferable job skills in a well-paid job. For example, an apprenticeship program with a public utility or with a corporation like Boeing. Shortages of highly skilled workers in fields like health care and technology have been predicted as baby boomers retire. The key is to keep people not destined for college from becoming "techno-peasants" as one expert calls them - left behind by the need for technology skills.

All this recent emphasis on whether college is financially worth it stems from the rapidly rising costs of college tuition, even for public, state-run institutions. The danger of rising costs excluding people from getting a college education is a legitimate concern. However, responding to high cost by giving up on a college education needs to be weighed against the opportunities available to high-school diploma/GED holders. If you're a Realistic personality type and mechanical skilled apprenticeship programs look attractive, then maybe it would make sense for you to forgo hefty college loans. All the more reason to use our tips on how to make a good decision up front.

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