Facts About College Education Costs

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2009-12-2325

Secretly, have you ever wondered whether your college education was truly worth it? I’m sure it’s something many students and their parents ruminate over. I’ve even written a few articles that cover this subject: Should You Earn A College Degree? and Should You Quit School Because You’re Brilliant? are just a couple of posts I published a while back to address some questions.

College Education Costs: Is College Worth What You Pay For It?

I believe that the value you get out of college is based on what type of classes and courses you decide to take, along with the life lessons and skills you develop while being immersed in a place of learning. Also, there are relationships you build during your stay at school that are unique to the experience — you won’t be meeting the same kind of people in an educational institution as you would elsewhere. There are also a ton of opportunities you get out of your connections and relationships that you forge in college which I find well worth the money you put into this period of your life. One of my close relatives who recently graduated from an Ivy League school actually goes so far as to say (or admit) that what you’re buying from a top notch school is the prestige and the influential friendships and connections you make with others in the same setting.

But by taking a look at this highly interesting infographic, you may find yourself a little more enlightened about the value of a college education in this country. Here are some interesting notes from the graphic:

male vs female college education

Remember our post on employment discrimination? Well some of those facts are supported here: 6 out of 10 bachelor’s degrees are earned by a female. But get a load of the median salaries: men with a bachelor’s degree earn $50,916 while women in the same boat earn $41,000.

Here are a few more points:

  • More than 2 million high school graduates enroll into college each year.
  • 1 out of 3 drop out of college after the first year. This wastes $9 billion each year.
  • These days, attending the most expensive college will cost you $54,410 a year or $217,640 for four years.
public college vs private college
  • Private school tuition, room and board amount to $47,500 (e.g. Yale) a year while public university is $20,000 (e.g. UC Berkeley) a year. Difference between private and public school expenses: $27,500 a year. In 4 years’ time, the discrepancy is: $110,000.
  • But is the private school education worth it? If you’re basing it on initial monetary outcomes, then you may think not: the median starting salary for graduates from private colleges is $56,000 a year; while the median annual starting salary for those in public universities is $49,600. The difference here is just $6,400 per year.
  • Based on the discrepancies in educational costs and starting salaries, it will take 17 years for someone who attended private school to make up the $110,000 extra that they spent on their education. That gap should close faster if they climb up the career ladder more quickly than their public school counterparts.
  • Two thirds of students carry debt when they graduate.
  • The average student debt is $23,200 (20% greater than it was 10 years ago).
  • Average student credit card debt? $3,173.

Also telling: the graphic I have cited above also points to some cautionary facts — that students spend a lot of time on useless activities, risky behavior, even silly and wasteful endeavors.

popular college majors

Then there is the insinuation here that certain majors won’t do much for you (or may yield a smaller ROI), with graduates holding degrees in the Social Sciences (History or Political Science), Psychology, Communications and English often ending up in popular but lower paying careers like retail store management, customer service and administration. The suggestion here is that by opting for certain majors, you’ll doom yourself into becoming a retail store manager or clerk, customer service rep or administrative assistant. This seems like a common complaint about liberal arts majors, yet surely there are many exceptions. But is this the rule?

So care to sound off? With college costs the way they are today, do you think getting a degree is worth it?

Copyright © 2009 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

ctreit December 24, 2009 at 7:33 am

(1) I just found out that on the recent tire change a wheel was put on the wrong way and all bolts on that wheel were loose. It was just a matter of time until it would have fallen or broken off. This incident leads me to believe yet again that one can do very well in life learning a craft instead of going to college. If you learn how to service a car well, lay pipes as a plumber well, or do expert landscaping, you should be able to contribute positively to others’ lives and to earn a good living at the same time.

(2) I see first-hand how the quality of education has deteriorated over time. As more and more young people attend college, the average demands on college students has to be lowered to allow more students – many with lesser abilities than in days gone by – to keep up with the course work. The curious thing is that colleges have been able to raise prices as their quality of service has gone down.

CreditShout December 24, 2009 at 9:37 am

What’s really fun is if you were to take the 75 grand or so you would spend on college and invest it for 45 years you come out with over 1.5 mill, or 500k more then the average college graduate makes over someone without a college degree. Never heard anyone talk about this though for some reason..

kosmo @ The Casual Observer December 24, 2009 at 10:45 am

Yes, but what’s the breakdown of those bachelor’s degrees? 🙂 Some majors result in higher paying jobs than others. The best data would be a comparison within the same major – a male with a bachelor’s in chemistry to a female with a bachelor’s in chemistry.

I’m not saying that there isn’t a disparity, just that it’s not possible to draw a precise conclusion based on the average salary of males and females with degrees.

/jumping off soapbox

Financial Samurai December 24, 2009 at 7:29 pm

Sorry, but the most popular careers of a Social Science major are: Admin Assistant and Customer Sales rep??

Where does this data come from? This is quite a biased article, you must admit.

A college education is PRICELESS, and that is why tuition keeps going up and up and up. Harvard can charge $100,000/yr and they could still only accept under 20% of the applicants.

If you want the best chance for your future, go to college. If not, no big deal.

Silicon Valley Blogger December 24, 2009 at 11:40 pm

From what I’ve seen, all surveys, studies and reports appear to have biases in some ways. I personally think a college education is priceless but it’s probably the kind of thing that suits certain people better than others. Also, not everyone fits the academic mold and environment you’ll find in a university.

Bret @ Hope to Prosper.com December 26, 2009 at 11:45 am


I think the top graphic regarding gender bias is misleading. The gender gap for pay has been closing for years and will keep closing. The high percentage of women attending college is probably the biggest reason why. As these female graduates hit executive age and the OWM (old white males) retire, they will definitely earn a similar salary to their counterparts.

John @ Curious Cat Investing Blog December 27, 2009 at 8:42 am

Silicon Valley Blogger, your comment is right on. The right college education is priceless. Evaluating it only versus your future income streams is not a complete picture of the value. That said colleges and university administrators have abused this notion for decades. The costs of eduction now are bloated with tons of unimportant factors. And unfortunately there are few (though they do exist) administrators that have bucked the trend to lavish spending and then increasing tuition costs. The solution I want to see, is not people abandoning college education but administrators stopping their lavish spending and focusing on providing education value.

Guys are abandoning college education in large numbers and women are more than filling all those openings, and more. Only a couple decades ago the number of graduates by gender was reversed.

The average salary figures are not a very accurate way to compare if there is bias. Looking into if bias exists and if so to what extent is worth talking about but is a separate issue from the cost of college education.

Holly December 27, 2009 at 10:09 pm

After being out of college with a B.S. for 3.5 years, I can tell you it’s not worth it for particular careers. Here’s my conclusion (and I happen to be a retail manager):

1) High school students need to STRONGLY evaluate their career choices. There is a wide variety of options, ranging from military to college.

2) I recommend going to a 4 year college only if it will lead to graduate school. A bachelor’s degree doesn’t seem to get many people very far. I’m a very ambitious person and have totally gotten edged out of entry level jobs because of master’s graduates applying for those jobs as well. My mantra became “the bachelor’s degree is the new diploma.”

3) I also recommend students attend a 2 year college to get their feet wet and get core classes out of the way. This will give time to think about what kind of career they would want to pursue, and save a ton of money while completing those courses.

4) If the student is completely uncertain about where he/she wants to go after 2 years of schooling, I recommend that the student choose a vocation available via a 2 year college. Community college in-state can cost as low as $700 a semester. Think about it – spend only 2 years in school, spend around $3000, to come out with a job that could start out as high as $35k+ depending on which vocation you choose. Then if the student gets a yearning to move up in that field, or to move on to something else, he/she has a solid foundation to use as a transfer to a university. A cheaper 4 yr university costs around $24k if you include housing, books, etc. And if you don’t include things like clothing, car, car insurance, cell phone, etc.

Like I said, I got a 4 yr degree from a really good university. But if I could do it over, I’d have gone to a community college first, like my mom suggested at the time, or I would have joined the Air Force which was the other option I considered at the time. These would have been cheaper and easier to get into careers quicker.

Jim December 28, 2009 at 2:45 pm

If you compare apples to apples in the same degree field and same experience level then the difference in median wages between genders is very small. The median salary for males with a degree is going to be higher than women with a degree since the median salary is skewed higher due to a higher % of older higher wage males and younger lower wage females. 20-30 years ago more college grads were men and so today a higher % of the high wage earning senior people are men and so the median for men is higher.

Holly, I wouldn’t assume that a grad. degree is necessary to make college worht while. Various fields like engineering, business, nursing can make good money with a bachelors.

Jim December 28, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Here is a study about wage disparity between men & women in engineering.

Take a look at figure 2 showing average wages for men & women based on years of experience. Very little difference there. That study is a bit old (from 1995) but I think you’d expect that wage equality hasn’t gotten worse since then.

Bottom line: “The study showed that the salary gap is primarily explained by the fact that female engineers, on average, have fewer years of experience since their first baccalaureate degree than males; salaries of female and male engineers with similar years of experience are virtually the same.”

April B December 28, 2009 at 7:06 pm

I agree with Holly. I sure wish I thought more seriously about college before I went. My story is a very long one, but I am finally getting my BA in Environmental Science in June 2010. I will (and do!) have a huge student loan debt because of past decisions. I also fear that I will be stuck in a retail job position, since at this point, that is all that I have experience in, having worked part time retail jobs while trying to raise kids for the past 15 years. Very difficult! This is a great post. Very interesting facts about bachelor’s degrees.

Jason Hommel December 29, 2009 at 4:35 am

CreditShout: That’s only applicable if you’re going to invest it in something good. If you don’t, you’re better of investing it in education. It’s a cliche that if education is expensive, try ignorance. But that doesn’t mean that you can only get education in College. There are other ways especially during this time and age.

John Simpkins December 31, 2009 at 6:39 pm

These are prety discouraging numbers. I would like to think that our society would have matured past this point by now but obviously we still have some growing to do. I never went to college with the idea that I would get paid more for going. Monetary encouragement never drove me, self betterment did. And I’m great!

Brenda Pike January 6, 2010 at 12:46 pm

The infographic you link to isn’t an article — it’s an ad from a site simply listing online colleges and universities and trying to convince people not to go to regular college and go to an online school instead. It think this post is very misleading.

Silicon Valley Blogger January 6, 2010 at 2:09 pm

The graphic may or may not be completely truthful — most of the data you get from any survey is a just a sampling anyway. The point here I was trying to make was try to spark a discussion. In my mind, college is ultra important and if you’re going to compare college to online schools, then that’s like comparing apples to oranges. Replacing college with an online school strips away a lot of the value you get from attending actual college. There are people who can benefit from online schools though — those who are out of the college circuit due to age, lifestyle, work situation and who need the flexibility.

The post is meant to ask questions. And that’s what I did. So what’s misleading about that?

Alan Garrison March 6, 2010 at 9:26 pm

No one has mentioned the type of work that a college graduate does versus a high school graduate. Does one really want to break their back 12 hours a day for fifty years in order to make a living? A college diploma allows a person to live a comfortable life.

Dan August 15, 2010 at 9:29 pm

A college degree is still worth it if (a) one pursues a major that will yield a good income and if (b), one is financially prudent about college expenses – for example, take advantage of instate tuition and live very modestly while a student so as to minimize student loan debt.

Yurtdışı Eğitim August 20, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Unless you are going to one of the high ranking schools, with a good reputation on the subject you choose, it could of course mean a waste of your money if that’s the only money you have… However, it is not just studying a subject, it is being a part of an intellectual level of people, community etc… And you can always get more than what college offers to a regular student. If you stay close to teachers, read, ask questions use the library, you’ll gain more than you give in terms of tuition fees… College will push you into real life, like a wind pushing a sailboat.

Shennan T. September 14, 2010 at 9:13 am

I don’t think college is worth what you pay for it. I think it’s a big profit making machine for the government.

Stuart Jones October 4, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Going to college and earning a college degree is very important. I believe what has made this a difficult proposition are the student loans that graduates are saddled with when it’s all over. A decade of debt!

fitzgerald hanover October 12, 2010 at 12:00 pm

A college degree definitely may make the going a little easier in today’s economy. However, many years ago, a college degree would put your foot in the door, absolutely. And, of course, there were a lot fewer high school graduates. A technical education was more valued, providing of course, that you had the dexterity and hand and eye coordination. Manufacturing was at its peak many decades ago. Now, China is the leading importer of goods, coming into the United States. In conclusion, if a student can stay clear of faculty members and administration, and keep a reasonable GPA, it may be possible to earn a degree with lots of debt.

Kevin January 10, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Considering how hard it is for students to find a job in this economy, it’s no surprise that people would start to question if the cost of a college education is worth it. I remember when I was looking at colleges, it never crossed my mind whether or not it was worth the money to get the education I wanted. Now the outlook isn’t as optimistic. People are looking at alternative ways to get an education now that will help them to save a bit of money. I don’t think that it’s always going to be like this, but it is an interesting question to wonder if it’s worth it or not right now.

Apply for Scholarships February 1, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Like I said, I got a 4 yr degree from a really good university. But if I could do it over, I’d have gone to a community college first, like my mom suggested at the time, or I would have joined the Air Force which was the other option I considered at the time. These would have been cheaper and easier to get into careers quicker.

David March 14, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Except for a few career choices such as medicine and science, college is an expensive waste of time. Getting into debt for a B.A. is ridiculous. If mommy and daddy and paying for your four years of prolonged drunken adolescence, party on! But you’re crazy to get into debt for a degree in English, Psych, Ethnic Studies, etc. College debt now exceeds credit card debt. College does not open doors if you’re struggling to find any job just so you can pay off your student loans. You’d have been better off to get real world experience and find out what interests you rather than being stuck in a classroom with professors who are too scared to join the real world.

Abin Clane May 17, 2011 at 5:33 am

College education really is necessary although there are really a lot of problems concerning this. I also found an article regarding comparison of different college majors and how long it takes to pay back your student loan.

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