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How Valuable is a College Education

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    This sample MLA paper engages the question of whether or not a college degree is worth the time, expense, and effort required to earn one. This sample essay was written at the undergraduate level for the Ultius blog.

    How Valuable is a College Education?

    American citizens have been debating the worth of a college degree since colonists founded “New College”, later known as Harvard University, when they arrived from England in the seventeenth century. Today, the debate continues as strongly as ever. In 2015, there were more than two million students enrolled in college in the United States; this is seven million more than in 1990 and seventeen million more than in 1949 (“Is a College Education Worth It?”). Many tout the benefits of having a college degree such as higher employment rates, larger salaries with better benefits, and more. Others, though, feel that the time and money required to get a college degree is not worth the hassle as the debt that comes with the education is much too high and getting a degree can delay students from getting married, buying a home, and contributing to their retirement funds. Ultimately, they argue that a degree is not necessary for success.

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    Worth the time and money?

    One of the main advantages to having a college education is the money made over a lifetime. On average, someone with a bachelor’s degree will make more than thirty thousand dollars per year more than a high school graduate, which comes out to about half a million dollars more over a lifetime (“Is a College Education Worth it?”). There are notable benefits for associate’s degrees, too. An associate’s degree will earn a graduate approximately one hundred and seventy thousand dollars over a lifetime compared to those with only a high school degree (Greenstone and Looney). The average household income for a family headed by a holder of a bachelor’s degree in 2011 was more than one hundred thousand dollars, which comes out to more than twice that of households headed by a high school graduate (“Is a College Education Worth it?”). Those who have any college degree- associate’s, bachelor’s, and beyond- make markedly more money than people without a college degree. In fact, 85% of the 400 Richest People list by Forbes’ were college graduates (“Is a College Degree Worth it?”). A college degree provides a benefit of earning more than the majority of people would make without one.

    A second benefit to having a college degree is that it provides more and higher quality job opportunities than are available to the majority of United States citizens without a college degree. In April of 2013, in people over twenty five years old, the unemployment rate for college graduates was more than three and a half percent, while the unemployment rate for high school graduates was more than twice that, and the rate for those without a high school degree is almost twelve percent (“Is a College Education Worth it?”). In addition to lower unemployment rates, a college degree offers better job opportunities. While just over six percent of college graduate were underemployed (insufficient work) in 2015, almost thirteen percent of people with a high school degree only found themselves underemployed while approximately nineteen percent of those without a high school diploma were unable to find sufficient work (Carnevale and Smith).

    College graduates are also more likely to receive on-the-job training buy about twenty percent, have access to technology, the ability to enhance their skills, and greater autonomy than those who have no college degree (“Is a College Education Worth it?”). Jobs requiring a college degree are also on the rise, meaning that there will be fewer opportunities for those who do not hold a degree. Between December of 2007 and January of 2010, jobs in the United States requiring a college degree rose by nearly two hundred thousand while those requiring a high school degree or less fell by more than five and a half million; these numbers, coupled with Georgetown’s projections on the job market and the U.S. economy, it is estimated that sixty three percent of jobs in 2018 will either require some college education or a degree (“Is a College Education Worth it?”).

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    Another opportunity provided by a college degree that a high school degree does not typically offer is access to better insurance and retirement plans. Studies showed that seventy percent of college graduates had access to health insurance provided by their employer in 2008 compared to only fifty percent of high school graduates who were afforded the same benefits (“Is a College Education Worth it?”). In terms of retirement plans, seventy percent of holders of bachelor’s degrees had access to retirement plans, while sixty five percent of those with associate’s degrees, fifty five percent of high school graduates, and thirty percent of those without a high school diploma had that same benefit (Baum, Ma, and Payea). Overall, a college degree affords its holder more opportunities for employment and a better working experience.

    Many feel that a college education is not valuable because while you can make more money, it takes too much time to earn back the money spent on the education in the first place. However, research shows that a college degree actually has a high return as an investment. To determine the return on the investment of a college education, the gain from the investment, or the money earned as a result of a college education, is divided by the cost, or the money spent obtaining the college degree.

    As it turns out, the return is more than double the return on the stock market with a return rate of fifteen percent per year (“Is a College Education Worth it?”). Even completing some college without yet graduating has an excellent return rate. A student who has taken several college courses but has not attained a degree can expect to see a return on investment of more than nine percent (“Is a College Education Worth it?”). In terms of actual dollars, a student who spent $17,860 (the mean cost of tuition, room, and board during the 2012-2013 school year) for four years at a public university could expect a fifteen percent return of $2,679 each year (“Is a College Education Worth it?”). Such a high return rate shows the value of an investment in a college education.

    Worth the hassle?

    One reason many believe that a college degree is not worth the investment is because a college degree does not guarantee desirable employment. In 2011, half of college graduates under the age of twenty five either worked part –time or had no job at all (“Is a College Education Worth it?”). Even those who are able to find employment are unable to find positions that utilize their education.

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    The Department of Labor stated that there were seventeen million college graduates in 2008 holding jobs that did not require a college degree (Vedder). In 2012, one in three college graduates was working a job that only required a high-school diploma or less; this included eighty three thousand bartenders, sixteen thousand parking lot attendants, and one hundred and fifteen thousand janitors who held bachelor’s degrees (“Is a College Education Worth It?”). Obviously, this means that those people are not seeing a positive relationship between their degree and their income. College graduates with jobs that don't require higher education make thirty to forty percent less than their equally educated peers with jobs for which a degree is required (“Is a College Education Worth it?”) While a college degree may allow some the opportunity to hold higher paying and quality positions, it is certainly no guarantee.

    Another reason some people feel a college education is not worth the investment is the staggering student loan debt that follows many graduates for years. In the nine years between 2003 and 2012, the number of twenty five year olds with student debt in the United States increased from twenty five percent to forty three percent; during this time, the average loan balance was over twenty thousand dollars, a ninety one percent increase (Brown and Caldwell). The cost of education has gone up so much, making crippling student loan debt almost unavoidable.

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    In 2011, the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee found that about sixty percent of college graduates that year had a student loan debt balance that was equal to sixty percent of their annual income (“Is a College Education Worth it?”). Those with staggering loan debts often find themselves occasionally being late or missing loan payments, leading to lower credit scores, even more fees, and an overall increase in the debt problem in general. These things can affect their ability to buy a home, support their families, and their employment opportunities. Often, students with such high debt are forced to live with their parents for financial help, delaying their financial independence, marriage, and similar adult milestones. Research on 2012 by the Federal Reserve found that thirty year olds who had never taken out student loans are more likely to own homes than those who took out loans (“Is a College Education Worth it?”).

    Loan debt has affected graduates’ ability to meet other important adult milestones as well. In 2012, forty one percent of those who has borrowed student loans delayed their retirement savings, forty percent delayed purchasing a car, twenty nine percent delayed purchasing a home, and fifteen percent delayed getting married as a direct result of their debt (Ellis). The rate of students who are delayed in these milestones is much higher than ever before. A 2012 study showed that less than half of women and thirty percent of men had passed ‘transition to adulthood’ milestones- graduating, living on your own, being independent financially, marrying, and starting a family- by the age of thirty; in 1960, more than three quarters of women and sixty five percent of men had reached those milestones by the time they were thirty years old (“Is a College Education Worth it?”). Not only are college graduates not guaranteed sufficient employment upon graduation, but they often fall behind in other aspects at the sake of obtaining their degree. You can learn more on how to get a job after college to make an educated decision.

    A third reason some people feel a college education is a waste of time and resources is because it is not impossible to be successful without a college degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted the thirty fastest growing jobs in the United States between 2010 and 2020; five do not require a high school degree, nine only require a high school diploma, an associate’s degree is required by four, and a bachelor’s degree and graduate degree are requirements for six jobs each (“Is a College Education Worth it?”). In addition, history and pop culture are full of wildly successful people who hold no college degrees. Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Bill Gates are all well-known names in modern technology and have experienced incredible success without having college educations (“Is a College Education Worth it?”). It is clearly possible for someone to be successful and live comfortably without obtaining a college degree.

    Conclusion

    More and more people of all demographics seek college degrees in the United States every year. As attendance rates rise, though, so does the cost of a college education and the number of jobs that require a degree. But is the time and money required to obtain higher education worth the hassle? Those who vehemently believe in the value of a college education often refer to the increase in money earned over a lifetime with a degree, the increase in the number and quality of job opportunities, and the high rate of return on the investment.

    Despite these benefits, though, not everyone agrees that a college education is worth the money and time required to obtain it. Those who disagree that a degree offers an advantage cite the lack of guarantee of desirable employment, it almost always comes with staggeringly high levels of student loan debt that follow the borrower for years, and the fact that a college degree is not a prerequisite for success. Still, it seems as though the benefits and advantages of obtaining a college education far outweigh any disadvantage there may be.

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    Works Cited

    Baum, Sandy, Ma, Jennifer, and Payea, Kathleen. “The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society.” The College Board. The College Board, 2010. Web. 28 Jun. 2016. https://trends.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/education-pays-2010-full-report.pdf

    Brown, Meta and Caldwell, Sydnee. “Young Student Loan Borrowers Retreat from Housing and Auto Markets.” Liberty Street Economics. Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 17 Apr. 2013. Web. 28 Jun. 2016.http://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2013/04/young-student-loan-borrowers-retreat-from-housing-and-auto-markets.html#.V3K7g7grLIU

    Carnevale, Anthony P. and Smith, Nicole. “Sharp Declines in Underemployment for College Graduates.” Georgetown University. Georgetown University, Nov. 2015. Web. 28 Jun. 2016. https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Underemployment-Declines.pdf

    Greenstone, Michael and Looney, Adam. “Where is the Best Place to Invest $102,000—In Stocks, Bonds, or a College Degree?” Brookings. The Brookings Institution, 25 Jun. 2011. Web. 28 Jun. 2016. https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Underemployment-Declines.pdf

    Ellis, Blake. “Student debt delays spending, saving- and marriage.” CNN Money. Cable News Network, 9 May 2013. Web. 28 Jun. 2016. http://money.cnn.com/2013/05/09/pf/college/student-loan-debt/

    “Is a College Education Worth it?” ProCon.org. ProCon.org, 2016. Web. 28 Jun. 2016. http://college-education.procon.org/#background

    Vedder, Richard. “Twelve Inconvenient Truths about American Higher Education.” Center for College Affordability and Productivity. CCAP, Mar. 2012. Web. 28 Jun. 2016. http://centerforcollegeaffordability.org/uploads/12_Inconvenient_Truths.pdf

     
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