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The Value of Education: Is College Worth It?

College graduates in caps and gownsSince the recession hit, more and more people have been questioning the value of a college education. Research institutes, the media and everyday people are asking the big question: Is college worth it?

In the debate, many have pointed to decreased job and financial security, coupled with increased college tuition, as big arguments against the value of a college education.

But some still insist that college is an experience worth having, for both personal and professional reasons. Ultimately, the question of whether college is worth it depends on the individual – and his or her goals.

Looking at the Value of a College Education

In a Pew Research Center survey, “Is College Worth It?” released this May, only 55 percent of respondents who had graduated from a four-year college said that their experience helped them prepare for the “real world” – a job and career. Increasingly, many are saying that college, with its enormous price tag, just isn’t worth it.

But college does still have its merits and value. Thirty-nine percent of respondents in the Pew study said the purpose of college is to help students grow personally and intellectually. College is without a doubt an opportunity for enormous growth.

There are also some career paths that absolutely require a college education, from law school to entry-level publishing jobs. Despite the arguments against it, a college education still has very concrete value in the job market that is hard to replace.

Times When College Might Not Be Worth It

There are a few specific instances when a college education may not be worth the time and effort. For instance, individuals who are interested in trade careers, such as plumbing or electrician’s work, may be better served by getting training at a technical school.

If you have a very concrete idea of what you want to do and a college education will not help you get there, then a four-year liberal arts degree may not be worth it for you. That said, just because you might not need an intimate knowledge of “War and Peace” to further your future career doesn’t mean that the value of a college education automatically equals zero.

If you want to be an electrician, that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t get your bachelor of arts if you’re dying to. The two dreams are not mutually exclusive. If you are willing to take on the financial burden because you value a college education and think it will help you, though not necessarily your career, then go for it.

Looking Ahead: Trends Affecting the Value of College

The passing of the student loan reform bill will impact many future students and how (or whether) they can fund their education.

The bill makes more grant money available to a greater number of students. The federal government will be able to increase the funding for Pell grants, granting more and larger sums, thanks to cutting off subsidies to private companies in charge of Stafford loans.

The legislation will also make it easier for students to pay back their loans after they’ve graduated. Starting in 2014, graduates will be able to sign up for “income-based repayment” plans that limit their monthly payments to 10 percent of their income.

Despite such reforms in financial aid, many students (and their parents) continue to find the costs of college intimidating. Some have even looked to Canadian higher education as a solution, since the significantly cheaper tuition rates seem to be a good value.

Whether or not this trend continues, and just how helpful the reform bill will be, remains to be seen. In the meantime, the debate about the value of a college education — and whether college is worth it — continues.

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