Tens Of Thousands In Student Loans? Was College Really Worth It?

“The value of my education is priceless, but the value of my education is also not $140,000 in debt.” is the opening sentence of an article that ran recently about student loans on NPR.org.  The quote itself lacks a shred of logic, as this person states that ‘The value of my education is priceless,’ while defining the value of their education in the next breath by deciding that it is not “$140,000 in debt.”

The mantra that ‘education is priceless’ has been pounded into the consciousness of our young Americans for decades.  I am not disputing the fact that education opens all kinds of doors and opportunities.   However the context of this idea has long been to promote the concept of going to school, getting good grades and getting a job that pays well; to increase the amount of young Americans who enter the “Collegiate-Industrial Complex.”

Now, decades after tuition prices began running amok, people are finally asking themselves if it is indeed worth it:

“The value of my education is priceless, but the value of my education is also not $140,000 in debt.”

That was the statement of a Hunter College graduate with a master’s degree, as quoted in the documentary Ivory Tower. And a new national poll suggests that thousands of graduates, especially younger graduates, agree with her.

For the second year in a row, the Gallup Organization, along with Purdue University,surveyed about 30,000 graduates of four-year colleges in the U.S. The survey asked about how their college experience influenced their happiness in life and at work, years or decades later.

The researchers say their broader goal is to develop a measure of college performance that focuses on what matters most to students.

Just as they did last year, the pollsters this year found that private and/or prestigious colleges had no advantage over public and open-access schools when it comes to turning out alumni who thrive.

And, the poll again found a significant positive impact in later life for students who really threw themselves into their educations: who took part in experiential learning, internships, long-term projects, bonded closely with professors and engaged heavily in extracurriculars.

Among recent graduates who received their degrees in 2006 or later, the picture was darker. Only 38 percent “strongly agreed” that college was worth it.

And for those who took out big student loans?

Just 18 percent of recent grads with $50,000 or more in student loan debt “strongly agreed” that their education was worth what they paid for it. An equal percentage, 18 percent, “strongly disagreed.”

Well, since the average borrower of federal loans is closing in on $30,000 of debt, we can expect that “strongly disagreed” percentage to bump up in the next few years.

Bear in mind, $50,000 is a lot of loans. About 15 percent of respondents in the survey borrowed that much — not insignificant, but a small minority. The pollsters also found that any borrowing at all dampened recent graduates’ perceptions of their college experience.

It’s also worth noting that perception is not necessarily reality. On average, this group of bachelor’s degree recipients will see that $50,000 outlay ($60,000 to $90,000 with interest) repaid many times over, thanks to better earnings and lower unemployment compared with high school graduates.

Better earnings and lower unemployment?  Come on!  Wages have been stagnant for years.   Lower unemployment?  Really? Where are the jobs coming from?  In sectors that do not require a college degree like bartenders and waitresses.

So why the negative reviews? Maybe these newer grads are still feeling the impact of the recession on their early careers, maybe they’ve absorbed the gloom-and-doom media messages, or maybe they are too callow to appreciate the long-term benefits conferred by that degree.

Stop right there.  Those who graduated and are now faced with the prospect of finally paying back those student loans in the current economy are undoubtedly bitter.  Whether their vitriol should be reserved toward the universities, Sallie Mae, or those who talked them into taking on a massive amount of debt depends on the individual.

But hey, if they need help paying those student loans off, it’s good to know that they can just grab an extra job in a restaurant… right?

-R.J. Renza, Jr.

Please take a moment and sign the National Petition to Opt-Out of Social Security. The more signatures we gather, the more pressure we place on Congress and our political leaders.

August marked the release of my first e-book “How Are You Not Angry Yet: How Social Security is Destroying the Futures, Finances and Hopes of Generations X,Y and Z and How We Can Put and End to it,” which takes on Social Security from the perspective of young America in a visceral and humorous way.  “Angry Yet” breaks down the complex topic of Social Security into a way that most Americans can easily understand and find entertaining and is available here.

I was recently mentioned by my favorite economic blogger Michael Shedlock in his post “Question To Millennials: Why Are You Not Mad As Hell Yet?”

I also appeared on The Debt Dialogues, the weekly podcast of “RooseveltCare” author Don Watkins:

Check out my video of how I celebrated Social Security’s 80th Birthday and What Social Security Does To Kids.

You can also follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/takebackyoursix

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