Is college worth it?

Examining the worth of higher education in an age of outrageous tuition.

Will Nelson, Columnist

It’s impossible to deny; college is really expensive. Such expense warrants some serious reflection, particularly when we’re all at a point in our lives when we are newly independent and financially vulnerable. For that reason, I’ve been talking to students around campus and doing some thinking myself to try to answer the question of whether college is really worth the money.

In the United States, the average cost of a private college education is $36,801, which is astonishingly high. Most students don’t pay off their debt until their mid-40s. That’s twenty years of languishing under the weight of loan debt, more than long enough to make one feel like Sisyphus, forever pushing that boulder up the mountain. And older adults still wonder why our generation has mental health problems.

“I think college is overpriced. I think where most tuition fees are at makes it inaccessible to people who weren’t born with a certain amount of money, and I think that that needs to be addressed,” first-year Clare Foy said.

It’s a compelling point. I believe that higher education should be accessible to everyone, no matter their financial resources. Certainly scholarships attempt to address this issue, but the fact remains that for many people, college is not even a realistic option.

Hamline is no exception to being an expensive school. Undergraduate tuition for all Hamline students is $41,290 per year. After financial aid, the average net cost comes down to $29,098, which is still roughly triple the worldwide median annual household income.

How do we justify this colossal expense?

“Ninety percent of the jobs that I would want to have for the rest of my life need a degree to get you in the front door,” first-year Maggie Kolcinski said. For those of us trying to become doctors, lawyers or professors, a college degree, bachelors and above, is a concrete requirement. But there are a lot of good jobs in the workforce that can be acquired with an associates or trade school degree.

Another big reason many are here is the experience.

“I’ve always heard that college is the time of your life, and I wouldn’t want to miss out on that,” first-year Anika Duckwall said.

I’ve heard it said many times, the friends you make in college are the friends you make for life. College is also a place where people can potentially meet their future spouses and find love. Personally, I’ve yet to see concrete evidence for that myself, but it doesn’t matter. The point is, college is valuable socially as well as economically.

However, “part of [the reason people go to college] is because that’s what you’re supposed to do,” as Foy puts it.

It’s true, many of us have been conditioned since we were young that college is an absolute necessity for our futures. Parents often push their children to attend a university in hopes it will increase their child’s chances of success.

The media is filled with images of successful college grads living out their dreams while their high school diploma-toting peers work long shifts at fast-food restaurants. But does this really reflect reality?

I have friends from back in high school who are training to become electricians and welders. Not only does their education cost considerably less, but they’re already getting substantial paychecks. I thought for certain that I’d make more than them after I graduate, but looking at the numbers, that doesn’t really seem to be the case. Here I am, racking up debt with my minimum wage work-study job, wondering if I’ve made a mistake.

So is it really worth it? I think Kolcinski put it best; “Is it a valuable experience? Yes. Is it worth a hundred thousand dollars? No.”

I really don’t mean to lambast the system. College does a wonderful job of preparing students for their careers, and I still believe it was the right choice for me.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to be here, but if I’m going to graduate with $30,000 in debt hanging over my head like the sword of Damocles, I’d like to make sure it’s worth it.