As graduating seniors prepare to walk this May, many of them step toward an uncertain future. With the Bureau of Labor Statistics pinning the unemployment rate at 8.8 percent as of March, the job market can be a daunting place. This fact might be easier to deal with were many of those graduates not strapped with the burden of student loans. Student loan debt, which has outpaced credit card debt for the first time last year, is likely to top a trillion dollars this year, according to the New York Times article, “Burden of College Loans on Graduates Grows.”
This grim future begs the question, is a higher education worth the years of coming payments and the potential postponement of a first home, starting a family and future savings?
According to the College Board, it takes 15 years from the time of enrollment before the income from a bachelor’s degree combined with net student loans begins to out-earn what a high school degree would get you. After those 15 years, you may finally see your full salary, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will even have a high-grossing occupation.
In fact, some of the biggest names in modern technology were college drop-outs. Sir Richard Branson of Virgin, Dean Kamen inventor of the Segway, Michael Dell of Dell computers, Bill Gates of Microsoft and Steve Jobs of Apple never earned a college degree.
Yet, these individuals are valued in the billions. Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, hedge fund manager and adventure capitalist, recently created a program called “20 Under 20.” The program, which received 400 applications from youth under 20-years-old across the globe, will choose the best and most promising 20 individuals to receive $100,000 to drop out of school and create their own business instead. According to Thiel, while the press has found this highly controversial, “plenty of students, their parents and people in tech have been wildly supportive.”
The Princeton Review ranks business administration and management/commerce as the number one most popular bachelor’s degree. Students seeing college merely as a means to a successful end result may choose this major as a surefire way into the business world. After all, any $100,000 dollar investment like a college education should pay off, right? Right?
I spoke with a couple students to keep touch with how the UMass community feels about earning a four-year degree, despite acquiring loans. Meridith Vaughn, a sophomore in the Isenberg School of Management says, “It’s all about the internships.”
Taking business classes does not necessarily prepare you for the hard and fast world of real business.
Stefano Perti, a sophomore marketing major, agrees with this statement. “Our classes are only worth the cost of the books we have to buy. If you want to know how business works, the best way to do it is to get an internship [and] get some real practice,” he said.
The skills necessary to succeed – and to pay off the average $24,000 of debt, according to the Project on Student Debt – cannot really be taught in the classroom.
Instead, a student must attempt to find an internship, often highly competitive, to earn those skills. With individuals like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs making a killing every year, is it truly necessary to have a degree? Why not delve into the business world straight away, saving vast amounts of money and gaining the hands-on experience that employers are looking for?
However, there are definite benefits to earning a degree. According to the College Board, the median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients working full-time year-round in 2008 were $55,700, which is $21,900 more than the median earnings of high school graduates. Perhaps then the question is not whether a higher education is worth the expense as a whole, but rather if it is worth how much we pay for it. With the price of education at the University of Massachusetts and Chancellor Robert Holub’s recent announcement of a $28 million deficit between funding and expenses, the gap will most likely to be made up by increased fees and the state of student debt can only worsen. Coupled with an uncertain economy and any future debts that might arise, we must ask ourselves when the education that we hope will someday put us in the green, inevitably puts us permanently in the red.
Melissa Mahoney is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.