Is College Worth It?

College is expensive and time-consuming.  Is it worth it?

A new poll from USA Today and Public Agenda explored how Americans feel about higher education and if the current system really meets today’s demands.   Here are some of the poll’s findings:

  • About 3 in 4 Americans say it’s a problem that employers require a college degree for jobs that don’t need them.
  • About 66% of Americans say colleges are stuck in the past instead of meeting the needs of today’s students.
  • Roughly 83% agree the cost of college makes it difficult for low-income students to get an education.
  • About 3 in 5 say getting a degree is “too time-consuming and expensive for working adults.”

These findings come at time when undergraduate enrollment has fallen by more than a million students in the past two years and the nation’s $1.7 trillion student loan debt portfolio continues to balloon.  “Americans’ frustration with the expense of higher education echoes what I have been hearing anecdotally from student loan borrowers for months,” said education reporter Chris Quitana. “Over and over again, people tell me they’re grateful for their degrees and the doors they opened, but their monthly payments had worn them thin prior of the payment pause.  Not every borrower struggles, but it’s clear for many the cost of social mobility is steep.”

About 80% of Americans say student debt is a problem, and about 3 in 5 are in favor of “forgiving a significant portion of government student loans for college graduates who have excessive debt.”  About 4 in 5 Democrats support student forgiveness, and roughly 40% of Republicans do. “I expect the conversations around college affordability, and those around student loan forgiveness, to grow louder as we near the end of the moratorium,” Quintana said.  “That’s scheduled for the end of August, but the freeze has been extended multiple times already.

When I shared this story with subscribers in our texting campaign, many brought up the value of trade schools.  Opinion contributor Samantha Cortese Taunton knows about that firsthand.  Traunton writes that, growing up, it was an expectation to go to a four-year college to start your career.  What she wished she knew then: There are other options.  Taunton wanted to be a pilot.  She attended a four-year college, majoring in mathematics.  But when she graduated, she couldn’t get into her dream field.  So she started looking into aviation maintenance technician schools.

“I was impressed by not only the shorter time to graduation but also the more affordable courses as compared with my bachelor’s degree,” Taunton writes.  After 16 months at Pittsburg Institute of Aeronautics, she graduated with a mechanic job.  She is now able to make a living while paying off her student load debt.  “Student debt is a thief”, she writes.  “If I could have avoided any of it, I would have.”

Story by Sally Ann in ‘Your Week’ USA Today newsletter July 17, 2022

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