In this post, I examine the question:  Is college the best option after high school? I understand this could be a controversial topic, and I will be the first to admit that the investment in my education has definitely paid off. However, there are different ways that I could have pursued a degree in Electrical Engineering- ways that would be much more cost effective than the route I took. I want to dig deeper into why the cost of college should be carefully reviewed by high school students. To do this I will:

  • Define The Problem
  • Discuss ways to fix The Problem

Simple, right? 🙂

The Problem

The student loan debt issue is not going away; in fact, it is getting worse each year. According to Studentloanhero.com, Americans owe about $1.3 trillion in debt and students graduating college in 2016 owe over $37,000, which is up 6% from last year. One positive trend for college graduates is the average salary for a college graduate is around $50,000, which is up 5% from the previous year. If we look at the average student with $37k in debt making $50k a year, how long will it take them to pay off their debts?

That is a difficult question to answer because everyone is different. Each person has different goals. Maybe a recent college graduate wants to buy a house, travel, buy a new car – my guess is that eliminating student debt right away is not at the top of the list. But it should be… Back to the average student that makes $50k/year – after taxes, this student is taking home $2,960/month (using the state of Minnesota for this example).

50k-month-pay

 

The table below shows the monthly payment and the total interest paid over the life of the loan with a 6.8% interest rate. If it takes a student 30 years to pay off this loan they are throwing away almost $50k in interest payments over the life of the loan. They could have invested the $240 every month for 30 years and had almost $300k saved (with a 7% rate of return)! IF a student can pay off their loans in five years they only pay $6,750 in interest payments. If the student continues paying themselves with the $729/month for another 25 years and we compare that to the student that paid the loan over 30 years, the student would have almost $600k saved ($729/month invested for 25 years at 7% rate of return)!

student-loan-repayment

How to fix the problem

When I was in high school (I graduated in 2006), college was the only option my guidance counselors discussed.  The guidance counselor never reviewed options for junior colleges or community colleges, trade schools (e.g. electrician or plumber), or technical colleges. Why? I believe that the undergraduate degree is becoming the next “standard” – similar to what the expectation is like for receiving a high school diploma. And now, receiving a Master’s degree is like what receiving an undergraduate degree was like 10 years ago.

I feel that this a systemic issue that starts at the high school level due to the lack of educating students on their options – post high school. I propose that high schools should implement a class that does a few tasks:

  • Discusses the interests a student has and what potential careers may align with those interests
  • Reviews how a student would go about obtaining the necessary qualifications to pursue a career. More importantly, this class should review what the different avenues are to pursuing this career and the associated costs for each avenue.
  • If a student doesn’t know what they want to do, different options should be presented to the student for review. For example, different trades could be reviewed to show that a student wouldn’t need a significant amount of money to pursue a career in a trade. Another example would be investigating two-year colleges so a student could receive some certification for a job that would pay decently so they could save money while they figure out what they really want to do.

Finally, if I had a chance to do it all over again I would have started at a community college. I get that there is an experience that college provides, which is valuable and important, but I feel you can still get a similar experience going to a community college and meeting friends there. After completing my generals (e.g. calculus, physics, chemistry) at a community college, I would have transferred to the University of Minnesota to complete my last two years of engineering coursework. I estimate that this would have saved me close to $20k, and on top of that, I would have paid much less in interest while I was paying off my student debt.

 

Can you relate to this topic because you had significant student debt?

 

What else should a high schooler consider that is looking at furthering their education?