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Questioning the real worth of college

By Samantha Byles on Jun 15, 2012 04:03 PM

I haven’t graduated from college just yet, but the stories told in the Inquirer’s series “Struggling for Work: The Broken Dreams of a New Generation” have overwhelmed me.

According to the series, students in Pennsylvania carry an average debt of more than $28,000 by graduation.

I am now facing outstanding student loans of $17,000 to $22,000, and counting. I have six classes remaining – a total of 19 credits -- to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Temple University’s School of Communications.

For the 2012 spring semester, I was forced to take a leave of absence because I could not pay off the bill from the previous semester – a total of $8,000.

My financial aid package had been reviewed several times, and my family couldn’t take out any more loans. So I could not pay the bill, nor could I take classes. I applied for internships at the Philadelphia Public School Notebook and South Philly Review, landing both. And I’m glad that I did. I learned a lot, and I gained real working experience, real-world experience, and writing samples that undoubtedly will help me when I start my job search.

As I work on the financial piece, I wonder whether college is really worth it.

The Notebook’s summer edition focuses on a broken pipeline to college and raises the question of whether students think college is still valuable. As an intern, I met several college-going advocates who argued that college is worth the cost. Even with drastic cuts to financial aid and funding for public education, they still believe that going to college is the smart choice in the long run.

But like many students who are also struggling financially, I still question whether college is the right choice.    

I know college is important. A degree verifies that someone has a learned a basic set of skills and has a general knowledge of what they are studying. Getting a college degree is something that I always wanted to do, so I started early on a path to postsecondary success.

I participated in an academic enrichment program in 7th grade, and that led me toward a private, tuition-based high school in Boston with small classes and a dual-enrollment requirement for juniors and seniors to attend Boston University for college coursework.

I was ahead of the game and excited by my educational track. I entered Temple with 41 credits and college experience. The plan was to graduate early, but that got derailed when I hit the financial hurdle.  

At this point, I wonder whether my work experience and collection of writing samples are at least equivalent to a college degree, or enough to find a decent job or continue to intern somewhere that might offer me a job.

But then I think back to the Inquirer series, which indicates that the unemployment rate for workers between ages 16 and 24 is 16.4 percent – double the national all-ages rate. That's a total of about 3.5 million young people.

If I had a choice and the money, I would finish college -- not because I am confident that my degree will offer me hundreds of opportunities, but because it seems like the right thing to do.

But I stilll haven’t paid off last semester’s bill, so I don’t know whether I will be taking classes in the fall. Even if I do pay off the bill before September, there’s a chance that the six classes I have left to take will be full, postponing my graduation even longer. 

So back to my question: Is college really worth it?

I’m still trying to decide.  

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Comments (5)

Submitted by Milsey (not verified) on June 15, 2012 8:08 pm

I think you're getting ripped off. I got my cert in journalism when I lived in Ireland , and it only cost me $2800. I was able to land copy editing jobs at local newspapers.
Teaching: same thing. Took a cert course that cost about $6000, now entering my third year as a teacher and the course fees are paid off.
You or any of these kids shouldn't be forking out all this money.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 16, 2012 2:27 am

It all depends on what you want. It's not all about return on investment. If you really want to be a journalist in a respectable news room you need to get a degree from a good school. Maybe that job won't get you more money than a community college degree and a job at a bank but it might be what you want to do.

For me college was worth it. I did well in undergrad at my state school and got a full ride for graduate studies making the whole experience very affordable. The master's degree got me a job I was interested in. I think going to my state school was a smart idea instead of spending $30,000 on the school I wanted in the city. And, my job required I had a master's. They didn't care that the subject was somewhat unrelated but they wanted the degree. Without a degree you limit your possibilities--just be careful how much you spend to get that degree.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 16, 2012 7:49 pm

Samantha, you have to finish. The degree will pay off in the long run. In the short term, it will feel like a waste. Look at the lifetime earnings for college graduates. You might not be able to do exactly what you want, but employers don't care that much about what you major in.
College does cost way too much in our country, and I still have student loans and I am almost 40. However, I make a lot more money than I would have without my degrees, and I love what I do. Both loving my work and making decent money took years, even after getting the degree. It really was depressing and I felt exactly the way you do. It is worth it, if you make it worth it. While some of your peers are backing down and giving up, keep showing up and pushing for what you want.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 19, 2012 2:40 pm

Mistake number one: Majoring in journalism. We have too many people running around with liberal arts degrees and not enough with science and engineering degrees. College is an investment and you need to make a profitable return. Colleges are selling the students a bill of goods with many of these worthless degrees. The government is compounding the problem by guaranteeing ever larger amounts of student debt, thereby enabling the students to borrow ridiculous sums of money and in turn driving tuition costs through the roof. The student loan bubble is bursting as we speak. We now have over 1 Trillion in student loan debt outstanding, 28% of which is delinquent.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on June 19, 2012 5:45 pm

I think definitely the work that college requires of you is worth doing, but having to enslave yourself or your family is not. What many find when they opt to work first, is that there is an overlap in what they learned through working and what they would have been asked to do in college. Perhaps your work experience can count towards your degree requirements. The work should be the important part, and colleges don't have the monopoly on that.

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