Is College Still a Worthwhile Investment?


Published:

Photo courtesy of zimmytws/Shutterstock.com

We’ll save the drama — even in an era of bloated tuition costs, ballooning student loan debt, and a weakened American job market, the answer to the general question of whether a college degree is still worth the investment remains a resounding, “Yes.”

Yet, this affirmative answer is strapped with a Barry Bonds-sized asterisk; not every degree from every school for every individual is actually worth the investment. A more extensive and more personalized examination is necessary to be of any useful guidance. We begin that examination, with a basic question: is today’s average college graduate still better off than an average high school graduate?

College vs. High School Grads

Survey any high school guidance counselor’s assortment of wall hangings, and you will likely spot some sort of infographic clipped from a newspaper, showing the difference in projected lifetime earnings for the average college grad versus the average high school grad — the estimate is about $800,000 more for the degree earner (our very own Michael Trivette contributed to this research topic - See "Accounting for Risk of Non-Completion in Private and Social Rates of Return to Higher Education"). It’s no secret that more years of education equates to higher earning potential. In fact, scholars estimate that each additional year of education adds somewhere between 6 percent and 10 percent to one’s annual earnings.

The advantage doesn’t end with salary; benefits such as health insurance and retirement packages are also slanted in favor of college grads. More than 70 percent of college graduates have access to employer-provided health insurance compared to just 50 percent of non-college grads. A similar gap exists when looking at access to retirement plans. College grads also report being more satisfied with their jobs, tend to live longer and healthier lives, and are far less likely to wind up unemployed or in a state of poverty than their non-degree-holding counterparts.

Forgoing higher education is clearly a perilous road, but so is thinking that you’ve got it made just because you are college bound. Over the past decade, earnings for college graduates have increased only by a meager 1 percent. This income stagnation runs concurrent with college tuition prices continuing to skyrocket and 7 in 10 college graduates emerging from their undergraduate years with an average debt load approaching $30,000. Debt can be manageable if a well-paying job awaits upon graduation, but for a frightening number of graduates, such an opportunity fails to materialize.

The Overeducated Barista

While degree attainment was pretty close to a surefire meal ticket a generation ago, simply possessing a credential from an institution of higher education is still necessary but no longer sufficient for entry into a “college-level” job.

Tales of debt-saddled college grads lining up for jobs at Starbucks abound in popular media. In this case, popular perception is backed by statistical proof. In the United States today, more than 40 percent of recent college grads report to jobs that do not require a four-year degree — more than 17 million Americans overall fall into this category.

More than 300,000 of this group are working as waiter and waitresses, almost half a million as customer service reps, 115,000 as custodians, 107,000 as laborers, 83,000 are tending bar at an establishment near you, and the list goes on and on (mail carriers, flight attendants, landscapers and construction workers all have large contingents of college-educated workers as well).

Of course, there is nothing wrong with making an honest living through any of these means. The real question is whether this was the working life these folks envisioned when they started their higher education journey. Did the server at your local IHOP anticipate delivering Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity pancakes to tables of teenagers when he decided to incur $40,000 in educational debt to pursue an art degree? Are the majority of our nation’s educated custodians actually math geniuses trying to pull a Matt Damon from "Good Will Hunting?" Life can always take us down unexpected roads, but it seems unlikely that anyone would willingly chart such a challenging course.

So how does one avoid this pitfall? Is it sheer luck? Perhaps Branch Rickey, the baseball executive who famously brought Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers, said it best, “Luck is the residue of design.”

Whether you’re building a 1940s baseball team or your own educational and career goals, thoughtful design can be the difference between success and failure.

Designing Your Education

In today’s globalized and competitive economy, skills and/or relevant experience matter as much or more than a diploma, primarily because a diploma doesn’t mean what it used to.

Although demand for college-level work has grown, many new degree-holders have failed to acquire practical skills valued in the job market, resulting in widespread unemployment and underemployment among recent graduates. In light of these trends, it is essential that today’s college applicants explore academic programs that lead to genuine learning and distinction, not just a vanilla degree.

To gain more perspective on this topic, be sure to read our past posts about what you need to know when choosing a college major and the most marketable (non-major specific) skills college students should emerge with from their undergraduate years.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

Does Gender Give Your Child a College Admissions Edge?

Understanding the widening gender gap and its impact on college acceptance.

Moving Off the College Admissions Waitlist

The No. 1 thing students can do while on the waitlist is communicate clearly, firmly and respectfully to the admissions office that, if offered, they will accept a spot at the school.

Are Your High School Student's Classes Rigorous Enough?

Perhaps no decision in a college-bound teen’s high school career causes more agitation than deciding how many honors and advanced placement courses to take.
Edit Module

About this Blog

College Transitions

Expert advice for finding the right fit


About This Blog

College Transitions is a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. As counselors and published higher education researchers, we aim to bring perspective (and some sanity) to college planning, and we strive to provide students with the support they need to enroll and succeed at a college that is right for them. Learn more at collegetransitions.com

Read all blog posts »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

October 2018

Run Club meets every Sunday at 8 a.m. in Midtown Raleigh or Wake Forest. Stroller friendly; children invited. 

Cost: $10/run or $100/annual pass

Where:
Optimist Park Community Center/Greenways
5900 Whittier Drive
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Sponsor: FIT4MOM
Telephone: 919-348-0472
Contact Name: Missy Currin
Website »

More information

North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Take part in a 10k, 5k or 1-mile-fun-run to raise funds for local mental health research. Register online. The event also features food and kids' activities. Register online.

Cost: $30-$75. Free for ages 5 and younger.

Where:
The Angus Barn
9401 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy pottery demonstrations, kiln openings, raku firings, glass blowing demos, food trucks, live music, a raffle and more. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Cedar Creek Gallery
1150 Fleming Rd.
Creedmoor, NC  27522
View map »


Website »

More information

Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

More information

Shop antiques, crafts and art, and enjoy food trucks at this artisan and vintage market in downtown Cary.

Cost: Free

Where:
Fidelity Bank Parking Lot
100 W. Chatham St.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Contact Name: Leslie & Jessica
Website »

More information

Ages 5-8 embrace science and nature while developing skills and knowledge about the natural world. Register online.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Kids (ages 6-10) learn to identify the tracks and skulls of common animals that live in or near the preserve. Make a plaster cast of a track to take home. Weather permitting, take a hike to...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson staff
Website »

More information

Explore the uses of pumpkins, past and present, and study pumpkins inside and out. Paint a small pumpkin to take home. All ages. Meet at the Upper Pavilion. Registration required for all family...

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Website »

More information

Enjoy live music and delicious soups, breads, sandwiches and desserts from some of Chapel Hill and Carrboro's leading chefs. Unique, handcrafted bowls donated by local artists will also be...

Cost: $15-$75

Where:
Weaver Street Market Carrboro
101 E Weaver St
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Sponsor: TABLE
Telephone: (919) 636-4860
Website »

More information

Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

This event, designed for academic students with disabilities in grades 6-12 who are performing at or near grade level, gives attendees a chance to meet role models with disabilities who have...

Cost: Free

Where:
N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

See Happy Dan perform magic, comedy and more.

Cost: $5/person

Where:
Renaissance Centre
405 Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 1-5 and caregiver take a relaxing stroll to experience nature. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Parent and child ages 2-5 water plants in the native wildflower gardens. Register online. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Enjoy a craft fair presented by the Junior League of Raleigh. See website for hours and to purchase advance tickets.  

Cost: $10/person

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

In this workshop, students will observe that infographics are often used to raise awareness or sell products in social media, and are more easily searched and viewed on the Pinterest platform....

Cost: Free: students must register

Where:
Caktus Group
108 Morris St.
Ste 2
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Celebrate Raleigh's creativity under the beautiful lights and cobblestone streets of City Market. Find locally-made goods and enjoy a night filled with music and entertainment with over 30...

Cost: Free

Where:
City Market
306 Parham St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Night Market
Contact Name: Sara Buxton
Website »

More information

Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy a craft fair presented by the Junior League of Raleigh. See website for hours and to purchase advance tickets.  

Cost: $10/person

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Read the book by Rebecca Emberley and build your own monster out of recyclable materials. All ages with adult. Registration required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Enjoy live German music, traditional Bavarian food and fare, German cars, a "Kinder Platz" zone wiener dog races, nail-driving competitions and more. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5-$20

Where:
Koka Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Pkwy.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Mothers and sons wear their favorite costumes at this event featuring a costume contest, games, ice cream and dancing. Ages 5-12. Register online. Choose course #116813.

Cost: $21/parent and child pair; $11 additional child

Where:
Middle Creek Community Center
123 Middle Creek Park Ave.
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family to carve pumpkins and take part in a pumpkin-carving contest later that evening, Prizes awarded for scariest, funniest and most original pumpkin creation. Enjoy a video game...

Cost: Free

Where:
TheeDesign
7901 Strickland Dr.
Suite 112
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: TheeDesign
Telephone: 919-341-8901
Contact Name: Lauren Elliott
Website »

More information

Friday, October 19; 6:00–7:00 p.m. Did you know there are over 40,000 different species of spiders! Join us as we explore a few arachnids found in our park as we search out these 8-legged...

Cost: $1/Person

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850

More information

Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

North Carolina's signature event features live music, carnival rides, delicious food, kids' entertainment and more. See website for hours and ticket prices.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Take part in a walk to benefit the Triangle Festival of Hope. Proceeds benefit and support caregivers and families living with dementia in North Carolina. The event features live music, kids'...

Cost: Free

Where:
Knightdale Station Park
810 N. First Ave.
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Sponsor: Dementia Alliance of North Carolina
Telephone: 919-832-3732
Contact Name: Kacy Hall
Website »

More information

Enjoy a craft fair presented by the Junior League of Raleigh. See website for hours and to purchase advance tickets.  

Cost: $10/person

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family for live entertainment, a bounce house, a costume contest, trick or treat training, princess hair braiding, face painting, music and more. The Aspen School's preschool programs...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Aspen School for Exceptional Children
1050 A NW Maynard Road
Cary, NC  27513
View map »

More information

Ages 1-5 and caregiver take a relaxing stroll to experience nature. Register online. 

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Step back in time with 19th-century costumed interpreters and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Preregistration encouraged. Purchase tickets at the mill. 

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60 & over), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Children ages 6 & un

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Children's booksellers read their favorite picture books. All ages.

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Join costumed interpreters Jon and Karena Potter to learn 19th-century country dances. Drop-in program; registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy a festival celebrating work, food and harvest. This event explores the season for all people on one of North Carolina's largest plantations, through games, music, food,...

Cost: $5/person. Free for ages 2 and younger

Where:
Historic Stagville
5828 Old Oxford Hwy.
Durham, NC  27712
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy live German music, traditional Bavarian food and fare, German cars, a "Kinder Platz" zone wiener dog races, nail-driving competitions and more. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $5-$20

Where:
Koka Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Pkwy.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Triangle Beagle Rescue of NC hosts Beaglefest. Enjoy vendors, food, dog-related games, a dog costume contest, swag, photos with your pup and with beagles. All leashed dogs welcome.

Cost: $10 for adults; $5 for children under 12

Where:
Sunny Acres Pet Resort
5908 US-70 BUS
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Triangle Beagle Rescue of NC
Telephone: 919 760 0025
Contact Name: Leann
Website »

More information

Learn about the history of candy at a display table. Taste penny candy and take a trip around the globe to explore the world’s favorite sugary treats. All ages. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Explore the vegetable patch for pumpkins, hear stories about gourd life cycle and uses, try roasted pumpkin seeds, and decorate a mini-pumpkin to take home. Ages 5-10 with adult. Register...

Cost: $9/member, $12/nonmember. Free for accompanying adult.

Where:
North Carolina Botanical Garden
100 Old Mason Farm Rd.
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
View map »


Sponsor: North Carolina Botanical Garden
Telephone: 919-537-3770
Contact Name: Elisha Taylor
Website »

More information

Explore the historic heart of downtown Raleigh on a walking tour of Fayetteville Street. Tours highlight the people, places, architecture and political movements that have shaped...

Cost: Adults (18+) $10; Youth (7-17) $4; Children (6 & under) Free.

Where:
City of Raleigh Museum
220 Fayetteville St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Mark your calendars! Our annual Halloween event, Creepy Crabtree, will return in October! This free park wide event will investigate the darker side of nature. Join the freakish festivities,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 191-946-03355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
Website »

More information

Join us on October 20, 2018, for the Harmony Playground Gala fundraiser at the Farm at 42, 1075 Lynchburg Road,  Selma, NC, from 5 pm - 9:30 pm.  The event will benefit the first...

Cost: $100 per person

Where:
The Farm at 42
1075 Lynch Road
Selma, NC  27576
View map »


Sponsor: Clayton Community Recreational Foundation
Telephone: 919 589 2523 x707
Contact Name: Jacqui Pomales-Moody
Website »

More information

Take a walk with a park naturalist to explore the woods and fields at this special time of day.  Preregister online.

Cost: $3

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson Nature Preserve staff
Website »

More information

Join the Raleigh Community Orchestra as it presents its fall concert, “Where Have I Heard That? Music from Cartoons, Commericals, and Classics” for all ages.

Cost: $10/adult, $5/youth, one free youth per adult ticket

Where:
Providence Baptist Church
6339 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC  27612
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Community Orchestra
Website »

More information

Each year over 35,000 visitors come to BugFest to experience over 100 exhibits, crafts, games and activities. Interact with entomologists and other scientists so you can continue learning about the...

Cost: Free

Where:
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
11 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: BASF, Terminix, and Walmart
Contact Name: Kari Wouk
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module

Magazine

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2017-18 Education Guide offers 660 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. Plus, find out who our 2018 Readers' Favorites are.