College: Is It Worth It?

by Jeff C. Johnson

A crowd of college students at a university graduation ceremony

The education planning discussion is often about the cost of college and how to save up part or all of the money needed for tuition, books, and room and board. But before we approach the money topic, let’s consider whether college is worth it! 

Based on discussions I have had with the families of students, I’ve come to realize that far too many parents believe a college education—or a specific education—is a must, that no matter what their student’s talents, goals, and interests, he or she absolutely has to go to college in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. 

I know a young man, pressured by his parents to attend college, who drifted through a few years of higher education and didn’t do well. He ended up leaving without a degree. However, with a little technical instruction, he flourished when he later got into the workforce and is a whiz with electronics, computers, and putting things together. Though he matured as a person during his years of college “attendance,” he could have learned more suitable and usable information with less expense (and no college loan payments) by not going. He also could have avoided lost time, all the while enjoying his work and on-the-job education.

You can probably think of someone just like this young man.

Where applicable, part of the financial planning process should be educating yourself about educational opportunities, as well their costs in time and money. Be sure that you and your student understand them, and then evaluate his or her life goals and interests in that context.

To sum it up, determine if your student’s college education will really help her or him realize life and career goals, or whether it will merely offer a “fun ride” for four or five years while they grow up and make some friends. If it’s the latter, are you prepared to support them if they discover that they can’t earn a decent living (especially compared to the cost of the education)?

Consider this: Plumbers can earn more than English teachers. I’m not suggesting that one vocation is better than another, but don’t make the mistake of equating every college education with higher earning potential. It’s just not the case. Understand that if your child wants to attend an Ivy League college to become an English teacher and high school basketball coach, the cost of that education might not end for you at graduation. You may have to supply post-graduation financial support while your child struggles to earn a living wage. Realizing this, a small liberal arts college or teacher’s college, for example, might be the right choice.