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Re-thinking the Investment in Higher Education

  • Matthew Pryor Sound Mind Investing
  • 2010 21 Apr
Re-thinking the Investment in Higher Education


"Is a college education still worth the investment?" That was the question we asked in an SMI cover story in late 2009. Here's a quick summary of that artcle:

In recent decades, going off to college has become the de facto expectation for students graduating from high school. A college degree is often seen as the key to launching a successful career.

But the exploding costs (and related debt) associated with getting a Bachelor's degree, along with relatively fewer attractive new jobs for college grads, should prompt parents and students to reconsider whether four (or more) years of college is the best approach to post high-school education.

If you haven't read the full piece, I'd encourage you to do so. It will give you plenty of questions to ask yourself and your student, and some of the financial statistics might shock you. For instance, did you know that it takes 14 years of work before the typical B.A. recipient reaches net-pay parity with a high-school-only graduate?

So given our view that it's healthy to at least question the true value of a college education, we were interested to see an article on the same topic recently in USA Today. The piece — What If a College Education Just Isn't For Everyone? — looks at some of the same pros, cons, and concerns.

One sentence in particular that caught my attention, "[W]hat's still getting lost, some argue, is that too many students are going to college not because they want to, but because they think they have to" (emphasis added).

All of this hits especially close to home for me. My wife and I recently discussed these same topics with our 18-year-old college freshman. He wasn't motivated, had no real direction, and was amassing debt (he's responsible for paying for his own college education). So he was paying for a degree he didn't care that much about because on some level — be it peer pressure, perceived family pressure, societal norms, whatever — he felt he had to go to college.

But it wasn't working. What did interest him, however, was an internship that recently opened up at a church plant in our area.

College will always be there, but this internship (and the doors it may open) won't be. So we all felt that it would be better right now for him to withdraw from the local university, expand his part-time Chick-fil-A job to full-time, and go to work part-time for this church.

Don't get me wrong. I know that college can be an incredibly useful tool, an essential one for many professions. But so can working full-time out in the "real" world while exploring options of particular interest.

It remains to be seen if our son will go back to college. Our primary concern isn't that he finishes, but that he is obedient to what God puts on his heart. After all, higher education isn't confined to a classroom.

April 21, 2010

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