Is College Still a Worthwhile Investment?


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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.

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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

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Calendar

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

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The summer heat is back, and so are the insects! Join us in the Finley Center exhibit hall to do some fun insect-themed crafts. We will make butterflies, dragonflies, ladybugs, and other insect...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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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
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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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
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

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

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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
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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
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Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
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Read stories together and enjoy an arts and crafts activity based on the books.

Cost: $5

Where:
Read With Me
111 E. Hargett St., #110
Raleigh, NC  27601
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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  17560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Learn more about Earth's amazing star, the sun. Safely view the sun through a solar telescope, hear about unusual space weather and current solar research, and more. International SUNday...

Cost: Free

Where:
N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences Nature Research Center
121 W. Jones St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Telephone: 919.707.8239
Contact Name: Rachel Smith
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Discover Historic Yates Mill - a place of business, community, and exciting local history! Watch a brief slideshow, then explore the inner workings of the mill itself and witness the power of water...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Age 6 & under free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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The Eno River Farmers Market celebrates its 10th anniversary. Take a blanket and dish to share.

Cost: Free

Where:
Eno River Farmers Market
144 E. Margaret Ln
Hillsborough, NC
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The summer heat is back, and so are the insects! Join us in the Finley Center exhibit hall to do some fun insect-themed crafts. We will make butterflies, dragonflies, ladybugs, and other insect...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Read stories together and enjoy an arts and crafts activity based on the books.

Cost: $5

Where:
Read With Me
111 E. Hargett St., #110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
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Website »

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Take the fast track to nature in this hands-on study of ecology. Ages 8-12. Register online.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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The Art Therapy Institute has been working in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools with the Exceptional Children's Program for the past ten years. Enjoy a summer art therapy groups in June and...

Cost: $20 per session

Where:
Art Therapy Institute of NC
200 N Greensboro St. Suite D-6 (2nd Floor Carr Mill Mall)
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Telephone: 919-381-6068
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Read stories together and enjoy an arts and crafts activity based on the books.

Cost: $5

Where:
Read With Me
111 E. Hargett St., #110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
View map »


Website »

More information

Weekly basic skills cooking class offered for children ages 5-10 at Whole Foods North Raleigh.  This free class meets at the cafe each Tuesday at 4 p.m. and is offered by registering...

Cost: Free

Where:
Whole Foods Market (North Raleigh)
8710 Six Forks Road
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Enjoy "They Say Blue."

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
760 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
View map »


Website »

More information

Read stories together and enjoy an arts and crafts activity based on the books.

Cost: $5

Where:
Read With Me
111 E. Hargett St., #110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Children's author Darren Farrell reads from his book, "Letter Town: A Seek-and-Find Alphabet Adventure." From Avenue A to Zoo Z, there's always something to spot and see in Letter...

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Join us at Chatham Marketplace in Pittsboro every Thursday at 10 a.m. for a casual storytime on the porch or even out in the yard. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Chatham Marketplace
480 Hillsboro St.
Pittsboro, NC  27312
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Sponsor: Chatham Marketplace
Telephone: 919-542-2643
Contact Name: Craig Kolman
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Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
View map »


Website »

More information

Read stories together and enjoy an arts and crafts activity based on the books.

Cost: $5

Where:
Read With Me
111 E. Hargett St., #110
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
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Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
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Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
View map »


Website »

More information

Read stories together and enjoy an arts and crafts activity based on the books.

Cost: $5

Where:
Read With Me
111 E. Hargett St., #110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

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Take part in a 5K on a USATF certified course hosted by Inter Development Futbol Club. Enjoy post-race refreshments and prizes for winners. Register online. 

Cost: $25/advance registration; $30/day of race

Where:
WakeMed Soccer Park
201 Soccer Park Dr.
Cary, NC  27511
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Sponsor: Inter Development Futbol
Contact Name: Lydia Matombo
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Summerfest Celebration features an autograph session, inflatables, games, free giveaways, guest speakers from the Hurricanes, appearances by Stormy and the Pepsi Storm Squad, discounted...

Cost: Free

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Celebrate the wonderful world of exotic animals and reptiles. Enjoy live specimens, presentations, raffles, vendors and much more. Purchase tickets online.  

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds, Kerr Scott Building
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Website »

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Read stories together and enjoy an arts and crafts activity based on the books.

Cost: $5

Where:
Read With Me
111 E. Hargett St., #110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Before he was the beloved Pete the Cat, he was Pete the Kitty. Join Pete on a cat-tastic playdate as he learns a lesson about sharing with his friend, Grumpy Toad. Activities to follow. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
View map »


Website »

More information

Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
View map »


Website »

More information

Ride the train in a Hawaiian setting complete with craft beer, barbecue and music. Iconic Productions’ DJ Harry will host games prizes and giveaways, including limbo, hula hoop and dance...

Cost: $10-$12

Where:
New Hope Valley Railway
3900 Bonsal Rd.
Bonsal, NC  27562
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Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30 or 3 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the mill's history...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Age 6 & under free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

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The Children’s Saturday Matinee series presents performances by three of the acclaimed professional dance companies that perform during the season. These one-hour performances are specially...

Cost: $17.25/person

Where:
Reynolds Industries Theater
Duke University
125 Science Dr.
Durham, NC
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Sponsor: American Dance Festival
Telephone: 919-684-6402
Contact Name: Sarah Tondu
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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
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