Editorial: Is college worth it?


by Shelby McCasland, Staff Reporter

As I near graduation, it is becoming clear that the job market I hoped to enter when I came to college no longer exists.  Which has me asking, why am I here?

In recent years, the worth of a college degree has come under scrutiny. With the current labor crisis and the twilight zone-esque post-COVID-19 job market, college degrees are under the magnifying glass. 

As of Aug. 15, 2021, the Education Data Initiative reported the average cost per student per year for a college education is $35,720. 

Coupled with an annual average increase of 6.8%, it’s no surprise college debt is crushing.  The average student debt upon graduation is $37,584. 

According to the Brookings Institute in Jan. 2020, the debt is higher for not-for-profit private schools, with 20% of graduates owing $40,000 or more. As Simpson falls into this category, of our current 1,200 students, at least 240 will graduate with over $40,000 in debt. 

While the debt alone is a huge issue regarding the worth of a college degree, I–like most of my peers–was aware of the cost when I started my journey into higher education. I could never have foreseen the sheer uncertainty of a solid income and high costs of living that would be in place as I enter the working world.  

The cost of rent alone is making moving home for a few years almost a necessity. Apartment Guide Oct. 2021 reports the average one-bedroom rent at $1,660 a month, which is a 7.7% increase from September and a 19.8% increase from this time last year. Not only are the costs outrageous, but they are also continually rising. 

As I start to look for a job, I am seeing at every turn low-income jobs with no benefits requiring college degrees; this is the new reality for undergraduate students. 

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York data, only 35% of graduates earn wages more than $45,000 a year. These are comparable wages to the median salary of college graduates in 2005, when the average salary was $45,072. 

A college degree does earn you more in the long run, with the average graduate earning $15,000 more a year than those with just a high school diploma.  However, there is still an average of 10% of bachelors programs whose students are earning less than those with a high school diploma two years after graduation. The college wage gap may be incentive enough. Still, with wages on the rise for positions that do not require a degree and “entry” level positions asking for years of prior experience, there are strong arguments on both sides regarding the worth of the college degree.

I am nearing the end of my time in higher education, and as I count down the days until I join the rest of the working world, I wonder, ‘If I was a senior in high school now, would I do it differently?’ Honestly, I’m not sure. 

 In hindsight, I may have stopped my journey after attaining my two-year degree at a community college; the cost was manageable, and the hiring opportunities are similar to what I am facing now. COVID-19 has swung the majority of students towards community colleges and those students will be flooding the workforce soon with an education and low debt.

There is no longer the guarantee which existed for previous generations that if you get a college degree, you will get hired in a relatively good earning job. There was the understanding college meant landing on your feet. Now, college equals debt, which most of us will not pay off within the first decade after we graduate. 

A college degree also means a future of jobs paying dirt with no benefits, and it means us explaining why four years of college is equivalent to the five years of experience that most entry-level positions ask for and scrambling to pay for rent and food costs. 

This experience and future were not what I had expected when I entered college.  The uncertainty of the future worth of a college degree leads me to believe I would have spent a lot more time reflecting on whether college was the right choice for me.