Higher education institutions have stood as one of the pillars of a free and educated society for centuries. While the cost of entry to college has increased in some ways over the years, more and more people young and old are attending college than ever before. It was reported that in 2014 that 21 million people were in college. With so many people focusing on furthering their education, many have begun raising the question of whether or not it’s worth it to attend college and get a degree. What are the benefits and challenges of seeking a higher education?
The first and perhaps largest barrier that faces people considering a college education is how much it costs to attend. The most recent report of average annual tuition costs show private universities at about $33,480 and public schools at $9,650. Of course, these amounts vary depending on a litany of factors such as the state the school is in, potential federal and state subsidies, scholarships, and much more. Still, college is undoubtedly expensive. But it’s important to weigh that cost against the potential benefits of attendance and completion.
For example, a brief look at the average annual earnings of those with a bachelor’s degree suggests that having a college degree can be extremely beneficial in the long run. A Pew Research report in 2012 found that bachelor’s degree holders earned an average of $45,500 a year, versus the earnings of those with just a high school diploma, at about $28,000. These are just averages, of course. There are plenty of people without college degrees earning more than their counterparts with degrees, but the averages still paint a clear picture of the potential financial benefit of earning a degree.
Time and Life Balance
Beyond the cost of college, one also has to consider the time they spend there. As the old adage goes, time is money. Indeed, college is an investment of time as much as it is money. By choosing to spend three to five years in higher education, one sacrifices time they could be spending elsewhere, such as a full-time job, parenting children, traveling, discovering new hobbies, and more. Going to college is in this way an opportunity cost as well, meaning any time spent learning is time lost doing something else. Because of this, it’s important to prioritize.
Many people after leaving high school spend time traveling or they go directly into the workforce. Some people, finding they’re unhappy with their current job or situation, see higher education as their top priority. Therefore, the time lost doing other things is irrelevant compared to what’s gained by attending school. If your long term goals involve higher skilled work or activities that require higher education, then college is a worthwhile way to spend a few years or more.
Interpersonal Skills and Networking
One aspect of college attendance that perhaps isn’t discussed as often as other things is the acquisition of interpersonal skills difficult to gain elsewhere. College is structured in such a way that allows one to learn from both professors and other students and faculty. This community of learning by its nature teaches students how to interact with others, how to network, and how to maintain relationships that are mutually beneficial at many levels.
While it’s true these skills can be learned in other settings (such as the workforce, organizations, etc.), universities are perhaps the most potent place to hone them. For younger students especially, living with a roommate or multiple people is an important lesson in cohabitation and cooperation. For many, this is the first instance of this type of living situation. In addition, having to compose proper emails, coordinate study groups, meet with professors, etc. are all great ways to build interpersonal skills that are invaluable in the professional world.
Not everyone will feel the need to get their masters degree, let alone a bachelor’s or associates degree. Sometimes the cost just isn’t worth it, especially for those who are capable of succeeding on their own terms. But despite the challenges, the benefits of attending college are significant. Whether it’s gaining interpersonal skills, mastering a subject, or just learning for the sake of knowledge, higher education provides avenues to brighter futures for people willing to do the work.