Diplomas and debt: is college worth the cost?

In addition to social experiences and challenging classes, a modern college experience also carries a hefty price tag that many households struggle to afford.

The costs are only increasing, US News reports. California state schools, in particular, have raised their tuition by 57 percent over the past six years – a choice that has called into question the true value of college for those who measure it in practical economic terms.

If a student graduates with the average student debt of $33,000 and can find employment with the nation’s median salary of $45,327, it could still take years for that individual to pay off loans, according to the Washington Post.

In Silicon Valley, people tend to see higher education as a gateway to higher-paying jobs – a viewpoint that has pressured students to strive for acceptances into high-ranked colleges. But with mounting student debts posing a challenge to college hopefuls, those who focus on the economic costs and benefits of college are becoming increasingly disillusioned with higher education.

In the past decade, universities have been criticized for acting like busineses and focusing on generating profit rather than providing quality education, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports. In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 75 percent of participants said college is too expensive for most Americans to afford.

Yet, the majority of students and parents still believe college pays off. Research from the US Cenus Bureau shows that the average pay of college graduates has risen steadily since 1975, while the relative incomes of high school graduates have remained flat. Economists argue that the pay gap would have shrunk if there were more college graduates than the country needed. Thus, even though college education is becoming more expensive, college graduates are also earning higher wages, indicating that a college edcation can have a high return rate.

“I think most people go to college because the evidence supports that they can get a higher-paying job, which will pay off in the long run,” Senior Kelly Huynh said.

Yet, there is more to college than a financial advantage.

“At colleges and universities you meet a host of professors and classmates who can share experiences that are richer than any book can provide. It’s the people you meet – and the wisdom and knowledge that they offer – that will be the most valuable,” Senior Barbara Yang said.

For students like Yang, the college experience as a whole – moving away from home, interacting with a diverse student body and exploring unfamiliar subjects – is far more valuable than the financial advantage.

These benefits are not limited to traditional universities. Alternatives to a college education, such as vocational or technical schools, offer similar depths of knowledge, skills and social scenes as well as more hands-on experience, which can be an advantage in the job market.

“Since my dream of being a cosmetologist doesn’t require a college degree, I would rather save the thousands of dollars I would be spending on tuition. I’m glad I’m choosing to go to trade school to do something I really care about in the future,” Senior Carolena Armann said.

Regardless of the path chosen, the attitude towards learning may be what ultimately determines the quality of higher education.

“I think it’s important to make the most of [what] college offers. In the end, education is what you make of it,” Junior Meghan Wong said.