You can find a lot of information – sometimes confusing – about the cost of a college education. By some reports, it can cost $50,000 per year to earn a bachelor’s degree.
On the other hand, according to the College Board, half of all full-time students attending public and private not-for-profit colleges pay less than $8,700 per year in tuition and fees. Despite these extremes, the cost of higher education is increasing at an alarming pace.
According to the same College Board report, the average annual tuition and fees at all schools (public, private, for-profit and not-for-profit) rose as much as 6 percent last year. At these levels, amid calls for a higher degree completion rate among Americans, it’s justifiable to be concerned over mounting student loan debt.
Expense verses investment
While not a defense of high tuition, an important step in reconciling this dilemma is to realize that a college education is an investment – for individuals and the nation – not an expense.
According to 2008 Census data, the median earnings of someone with only a high school diploma is $27,448, compared to the median income of $47,853 for those with a bachelor’s degree. Perhaps more important, those with a bachelor’s degree tend to stay employed. The current unemployment rate for those with a degree is less than 5 percent.
In addition to enriching the intellectual capital of individuals and our country, it is also reported that the typical college graduate pays 80 percent more in total federal, state, and local taxes than a high school graduate.
Alternatives for achieving an educated America
There are practical alternatives to keeping a college degree within the reach and budget of all, solutions that are real, present and useable today.
- Be a strategic educational consumer. Attending a community college is a practical way of saving on tuition while preparing for later entry into a “flagship” bachelor’s program. Attending a “blue chip” institution can carry value beyond instruction alone. However, less expensive institutions can offer similar or even better educational outcomes.
- Satisfy general education requirements through online study, credit by examination, or at a community college. Costs often are less, and most four-year institutions will accept credits in transfer.
- Attend summer-term classes or take transferable courses online. Accelerate time to degree completion and to full-time employment. A “four-year” degree can be earned in less than three years of year-round, full-time study.
- Take advantage of being an adult student. For those who have some college but no degree, the best bet may be an accredited, nonprofit institution like Excelsior College. Excelsior combines affordable tuition with the acceptance of prior credit from other colleges and universities for transfer students, military and corporate training programs that have been evaluated for college-level credit, and its own credit-by-exam program to help students finish what they started in degrees from its Schools of Business and Technology, Health Science, Nursing or Liberal Arts.
President Barack Obama has challenged the nation to once again lead the world in the number of adults with college degrees. To achieve this goal, a degree must be both affordable and accessible. And, higher education itself must be open to innovative, academically sound models to meet this challenge. Otherwise, Americans can expect to see their standard of living fall and more jobs move abroad in search of more highly educated workers.