St. Petersburg College’s upcoming Baccalaureate Expo will spotlight the college’s 20 bachelor’s degree programs, inviting potential bachelor’s candidates to learn about career opportunities, explore financial aid possibilities, meet with faculty members and seek help from advisors for applying and registering for classes. But with the rising cost of an education, many question the value of a bachelor’s degree. Is it really worth it?
According to Mark Kantrowitz, a nationally recognized expert on student financial aid, scholarships and student loans, the answer is yes.
There were more than 20 million students expected to attend American colleges and universities in Fall 2015, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And with the average cost of tuition, fees, room and board ranging from around $16,000 to $23,000 per year, most of those students will graduate with debt. Kantrowitz said 2016 grads who borrowed to finance their degrees will leave college owing an average of $37,173 per student. But he also said research shows that, in spite of the cost, attaining a bachelor’s degree remains a solid investment.
Opportunities and Earning
The numbers are clear: A bachelor’s degree will earn you more money.
Based on economy and job projections calculated by Georgetown University, by 2018, approximately 63 percent of jobs will require some college education or a degree. In their article, “Do the Benefits of College Still Outweigh the Costs?,” Jaison Abel and Richard Deitz reported that over the past 40 years, those with a bachelor’s degree earned 56 percent more than high school graduates. They also concluded that the economic benefits of earning a bachelor’s degree lasted a lifetime, with degreed workers earning over $1 million more than high school grads over the course of their careers.
Starting salaries are rising, with undergraduate degrees pulling in an average of $43,000 in 2015 – 7.5 percent higher than 2014, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
NCES also reports that college grads have lower unemployment rates than those of high school graduates, with bachelor’s degree holders, ages 24-65, at 3.4 percent in 2014, compared to high-school grads at 7.4 percent.
Where you go matters
Kantrowitz says that a degree is a good investment, but it does depend on what and where you study.
“It depends on the choice, rather than the necessity,” he said. “If you’re pursuing a less lucrative major, you can still get a quality education at a less expensive state college. You can stack the deck against yourself by going to a more expensive college.”
Other benefits of a bachelor’s degree appear to be the networking opportunities of living and studying in a campus community, where students not only make friends and meet potential mates, but also make business connections. Harvard Business School estimates that 65 to 85 percent of jobs are acquired through networking, which, again, brings into play the importance of where you study.
“The difference between Ivy League schools and state colleges is not faculty or facilities,” Kantrowitz said. “The difference is the students. That’s why you should visit a school while it’s in session, so you can see how you’ll fit in.”
Many college students complete internships while working on their bachelor’s degree, which provide valuable experience and networking opportunities. Jacob Wortock, Employment & Internship Coordinator at SPC’s Seminole Campus, said internships are a gateway into your field of study.
“A lot of employers are looking for experience,” he said. “An internship will allow you to apply your classroom learning in a real-world situation, hone your professional self and build a network of connections in your field. In order to break into a field of study, an internship is pivotal.”
A Good Return on Your Investment
Abel and Dietz report that considering all costs, a bachelor’s degree has, on average, offered a return of around 14 to 15 percent annually. Considering that an investment in stocks yields around 7 percent annually and bonds yield an annual return of about 3 percent, the benefits of an investment in a bachelor’s degree double that of the stock market. Kantrowitz agrees.
“On the average, a degree pays for itself in about ten years. It’s not just a good investment. There is no better investment.”