The value of college: six readers share their perspectives

The value of college: six readers share their perspectives
The Guardian - 5/1/2012 - original
We asked whether an increasingly costly college degree was worth the expense. Guardian readers share their thoughts

Student loan debt in the US is at $1tn; the job market for college graduates is the bleakest it's been in a decade; only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor's degree or higher to fill the position, according to the Associated Press. As part of our people's panel series, we asked you: In a world where an expensive degree is no guarantee of a job, what's the value of college?

'America has mortgaged my generation' – Trevor Wylie

I am the son of a steel worker and a beautician, so it was repeatedly impressed upon me growing up that going to college was of the utmost importance. A college degree was the golden ticket that would rescue me from all of the hardship and struggle I watched my parents endure – or so I was told. Now that I'm facing 90k debt upon graduation next month, and have nothing more than a few interviews to show for it, I can say there is no way I would take the same route again.

I think one of the most crucial aspects of the student debt epidemic is that people are forced to make this pivotal decision – college and debt, or no college and no prospects – at the age of 17 or 18. At that age, I was hardly able to fathom the obligation I was getting into. I caution all young(er) people to educate themselves on the reality they are getting into before they accept those college loans, which are frankly exploitative.

The reality I face is a daunting one: no job and swelling debt compounded by merciless interest rates, or a meager salary that is so burdened by my educational costs that it can hardly be viewed as worth it.

America has mortgaged my generation. I would love nothing more than to get married, buy a house and have a family. None of those things are an option now, because I can't afford to do them, even with a job. I'm hardly a lone case – many of my peers feel exactly the same.

'It's an absurd amount of money' – Ruthie Dreyer

I go to the New School in New York City and, admittedly, it's a lot of money (roughly $35,000 a year). Honestly, do I think my education is worth that much? No. But I do think my education is less of a rip-off than bigger, private colleges. All of my classes have 15-18 kids in them, and our classes are "seminar-style", which means the students get to talk a lot.

Some of my classes are inspiring examples of progressive pedagogy, while others are absolute nightmares. The quality of the seminar-style class depends on the effort of students. I was a professional slacker in high school, but I miraculously transformed into an A student at the New School. I do my reading for classes, because class is embarrassing and boring if I don't.

When you're expected to do most of the talking in a discussion, and when your classes are so small, you're forced into becoming a really articulate, analytical thinker. I've gotten a lot of individualized attention from professors, and I take advantage of their help whenever I can.

I think college is a complete waste of money if you're just going to get drunk every night and do minimal work for classes. College is definitely overpriced, but students are also under-stimulated. The prices should drop, but so should the general class size. Too many students are paying absurd amounts of money just to keep a seat warm.

'College has made my future bright' – Christine Beavers

I don't have any student debt. I am a complete anomaly in the US, and among my peers, but it's for a simple reason: I had a child at 18, and then I qualified for Pell grants.

I don't recommend that anyone follow my quick and easy plan to debt-free college. The loss of sanity is probably large, and Pell grants only cover tuition, with a small lump sum that helped pay for books. I worked nights and weekends in college to pay for everything else: childcare, food etc.

I have to say that my degree, and my subsequent graduate degree, has been worth it. I now do research at a national lab, and my future looks and feels pretty bright, which may be a consequence of not having to look out from under a mountain of debt like most of my peers. It was pretty horrifying when one of my friends, who is married with two kids, was told that he would qualify for grants if he would just get divorced. He has 100k+ of student loan debt. His marriage is worth more to him than that – I respect him for that.

'Bachelor's degrees should be publicly financed' – Robert Owens

You've got to be a strong finisher. If you can't see yourself sticking with a program for four to five years and going the distance, an associate's degree might make more sense. Quitting at the three-year point of a bachelor's degree doesn't impress anyone looking at your resumι. You have to stick it out.

It seems to be getting harder for students to go the distance. A lot of the problem is financial pressure. Students are quitting to support themselves, or because they or their parents can't make their next tuition payment, or they can't get another loan.

This stinks, because it has been drilled into everyone's head that a bachelor's degree is the bare minimum to compete in the job market and the global marketplace. If a bachelor's is the bare minimum, why isn't it publicly financed, just like K-12 education? An educated workforce is good for society – and it pays for itself.

'I learned more by working than I did in school' – John Wilson

I was the first person in my family to go to university. It was a different time. It was the late 60s and early 70s and the Vietnam war was going on. I had to stay in school or be drafted, so I did what it took. When I got to US air force pilot training right after I got my degree, I was the only one in my class who did not have any student loans to repay. My grades suffered from working so much, but I learned more by working than I did in school.

I moved out when I graduated at age 22, and never lived with my mother again. This is a far cry from the college kids these day, who live with their parents until they are 30 and put themselves into debt rather than do an honest days work to get through school.

'College is not right for everyone' – Tyler McDaniel

I recently started college at Kennesaw State University in the US. I find it sad that student debt in the US has recently surpassed our own national credit card debt. That should be blatant proof there is something wrong here.

I'll be paying for college by working a part-time job. My family has agreed to help some, but I will finance most of my education by working. I plan to take on little to no debt to get my degree. I will not sit here and say college is right for everyone.

I aspire to be a journalist one day, so I understand that college is important, and will be quite beneficial to me. If you aspire to be a photographer, look at the cost-benefit ratio. Only you know yourself well enough to decide if the cost is worth what you plan to put into it and, more importantly, what you plan to get out of it.