College-Student-costWith the cost of a college degree getting higher every year, many potential post-secondary students are asking the obvious question: is a college degree worth the cost?  In fact, the cost of a college degree has climbed in virtually every state in the US since 2008.  In some areas college degrees have increased an average of four percent in private institutions and approximately seven percent for state colleges and universities.

Today the average degree costs just over $100,000 at a private post-secondary institution and between $64,000 and $72,000 at state-funded schools.  That doesn’t even include the cost of living, which can add another $25,000 to $30,000 each year.

So it begs the question whether a college degree is worth the cost.  Do careers and education go hand-in-hand?  Do college grads make more money than those with some or no college?

Unfortunately, there are no simple “yes or no” answers to these questions.  Many experts say, in fact: it depends. A 2012 US News & World Report article suggests that some degrees aren’t worth their cost, and their list of those that aren’t cost-effective include social work, theater arts and elementary school education, among others.

The reason, it says, is because the earnings ceilings for careers in these fields are so low that they may not justify the investment, especially as inflation continues to rise, and more so if you factor student loan debt into your annual income.  Some people in these and other low-paying fields make annual incomes that are the same as people in other careers who have no post-secondary education at all.

The same is not necessarily true of every type of college degree.  Jobs in sales and marketing management tend to pay well.  However, a person who wants to advance in the ranks in business management almost always needs more than a Bachelor’s degree to do so.  With so much competition for business management positions, some automatically require no less than an MBA today.  Those who opt for a college education may very well have to make a master’s degree or other advanced or more specialized training a part of their future educational plan.

These factors sometimes drive today’s students to pursue trades and technical diplomas and certificates instead.  Many trades schools are enjoying increasing enrollment numbers because of this.  A diploma in a trade is often a ticket to a higher starting salary for new grads than for those with Bachelor’s degrees.

However, there are some risks that are inherent to pursuing a trades program instead of a Bachelor’s degree.  One is that some trades become obsolete with time and the emergence of newer technologies, possibly rendering a trades diploma worthless in a decade or two.  Another is that the earnings ceilings in many trades are much lower than in careers that require a Bachelor’s degree.

Then there are the successful entrepreneurs who have neither a trades diploma or a Bachelor’s degree.  Some have a little bit of college, while others have only a high school diploma on their résumés.  Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college to start his company, and today he is worth billions.  In fact, some entrepreneurs advise aspiring entrepreneurs to take the money they would have spent on a college degree and invest it in starting a business instead.

Again, there is no simple answer to the question of career and education.  Experts advise potential post-secondary students to really study careers they’re interested in before starting down their educational path, something that many students never do up front.

Many students are surprised to discover that their chosen career path may never be enough to pay the day-to-day cost of living, and that their earnings will not keep up with inflation.  Others may find that the career they hoped to pursue will require much more than just a Bachelor’s degree, adding even more costs and putting them in debt before their careers even begin.

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