With student loan debt ballooning to $2 trillion soon, many Americans are starting to ask themselves “Is college worth it?” This is an important question that bucks the line many Millennials and GenZers have been told. There are plenty of statistics about income levels for college grads versus non-grads. But what do these graduates say?
Now, I’ll be transparent—I found formal higher education to have been worth it for me. My undergraduate degree in the Study of Government, along with a minor in History, prepared me pretty well for going to law school. And with my law degree, I will be able to serve people as legal counsel when they need it.
But my situation is not the same as everyone else’s. The way I work and process things aren’t the same as everyone else. So it would not make sense for me to automatically say that everyone should go to college or graduate school.
In my case, I think college was worth it (as well as law school). But what do other college grads have to say?
Is College Worth It? Most College Graduates Say No
A survey of 248,000 respondents found that nearly two-thirds of them said that they regretted getting their college degrees. The biggest regret was, unsurprisingly, student loan debt. I’ve tackled this topic in a few other articles, including my assessment of proposals to cancel portions or all of students’ federal loans.
Of those surveyed, the most satisfied college majors were those in STEM fields. About 42% of engineering grads and 35% of computer grads said they did not regret their decision to go to college.
But for those in the humanities, it’s a different story. About 75% of those in the humanities regret their degree. Just below, at 73%, those who graduated from social sciences, physical and life sciences, and art programs regretted their degrees.
Also of note on the question of whether college is worth it are the answers from those in other noted majors. Business majors have a 66% regret rate. Health science graduates, 67%. And math graduates, 68%.
Why So Much Regret?
As mentioned before, student loan debt is a huge part of the problem. But I also think that many college graduates have simply found that they are not using their majors as they were told they would be.
How many times have we heard of somebody in a given job who did not go to school for it? I have been there myself some years ago when I found myself in a business marketing job that I had no formal training for.
And even technically now, I don’t need my undergraduate degree to be a coach. Though I definitely needed to go to law school to become an attorney.
This phenomenon may be changing our perceptions about higher education. A recent Rasmussen survey found that, in 2022, 65% of Americans say that having a college degree is at least somewhat important for finding a job. But what’s astounding is that this is down from 84% just three years prior in 2019.
The survey found that 26% of respondents believe college is very important to get a job, while 29% believe it’s important. About 6% said that college is not important at all to get a job.
What Do We Do Now?
Now, don’t get me wrong here. This isn’t a call to completely abolish higher education as we know it. What I do think we should do is critically assess what the options are for high school graduates.
Rather than looking at whether college is worth it in the aggregate, what I will propose is that we individualize the question. “Is college worth it for me?”
This requires some sifting of the wheat and chaff that’s out there on the subject of higher education. We need to have important conversations with ourselves, especially as parents, to help high schoolers really think through if college is best for them based on their unique attributes and skills.
For example, let’s say we have a set of two brothers who are widely different. One is an academic at heart and excels in his studies. The other finds academic work more difficult but has a natural talent for working on machines.
A standardized approach for these two brothers would not make sense. Each should choose a path that best aligns with their respective interests and talents.
Obtaining a college and/or graduate degree may be worth it for the first brother. But the other brother may struggle in such an environment. Trade or technical school is likely better for him, which will train him to make a good living doing something he likes and has a knack for.
Both choices can be right. It’s not an either-or situation. The paths after high school can vary for each person based on who they are as a person. And that’s just fine.
Closing Thoughts on if College is Worth It
In my last semester of law school, I wrote a nearly 70-page independent study on the subject of student loans and the law. A portion of that paper dealt with the idea that college may not be worth it for everyone. But I did discuss alternatives for juniors and seniors to consider.
For example, the median annual salary for an elevator technician is just under $85,000. For a web developer, the median annual salary is just under $74,000. And for a dental hygienist, the median is just over $76,000 annually.
These qualifications don’t take four years to achieve. And certainly not at a cost of $27,330 for an in-state school or $55,800 for a private school. Plus, many trade and technical programs offer apprenticeships that frequently lead directly to full-time jobs upon completion of the program.
And these jobs are just as dignified as any job that requires a college or graduate degree. So we ought to consider presenting these options to our high schoolers. We can, therefore, help them avoid a lifetime of regret (and student loan debt).
If you’re in the group that regrets your college degree because of student loans, know that there is hope. You don’t have to be trapped by the decisions of the past. There’s a brighter future to be had if you’re willing to put in the work for something better.
Ready for that? Book your free Discovery Session to start your financial transformation now!