Pomp In These Circumstances: What's a College Degree Worth?

Education Economics: Going into debt to go to college

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

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Today we’re kicking off our series “Pomp in these Circumstances.” Over the course of this week we’ll be looking at the challenges that high school and college graduates are facing in these difficult economic times. This year 3.2 million students are expected to graduate from high school and of those, roughly 70% will go on to get a college education. But with two-thirds of college graduates carrying debt—and the average student loan debt topping $20,000 dollars— is a college degree worth it? What does it get you in today’s global economy? Joining us to talk about the value of a college education is career counselor and higher-education policy writer, Marty Nemko.


Marty Nemko

Hosted by:

Farai Chideya


Chelsea Merz

Comments [6]

Thomas Gosnell

I think the value of a college degree really depends upon the individual. As a university professor, I have seen numerous students who would have been better served by vocational education. Four to five years and many tens of thousands of dollars is a pretty high price to pay for a skill set that enables you to say, "Would you like fries with that?" This is not to say that college curricula become more vocational, nor is it to says that liberal arts education is not valuable. My point is that the expectation that everyone get a college degree is misguided.

Of course my point of view may be a little jaded right now by the final exams I am currently grading.

May. 12 2009 11:10 AM
Brandice Henderson

I wrote a book about this very subject, "College the Cruel Joke, Unless You Know the Punchline." Students attend college believing that a degree will be their "ticket" to a great job and a good salary, yet no one teaches students that the degree alone will not get them very far. Students must began preparing for the job of their dreams as soon as they step into college their freshman year by interning, shadowing, and making & keeping connections.

The idea is that once a student reaches his senior year he already has a rolodex of professionals that want him to succeed because of the great job he/she has done through volunteering, internship, etc. Without the experience students will continue to graduate without a job offer in their major and the sometimes unbearable weight of student loans. The bottom line is that high schools and colleges must begin teaching students strategies to receive job offers after the degree. www.collegepunchline.com.

May. 12 2009 10:55 AM
Liz Wheeler

I have a nursing doctorate and was teaching nursing for 10 years. I left teaching once it became apparent to me that I was working many, many more than 8 hours a day and was never going to make more than the new Associate degree RNs graduating from the school I taught at. So, I went back to being a Nurse Practitioner (Master's level degree) and am much less stressed and am making %50 more than I was as a college professor.

May. 12 2009 09:15 AM

The author of the Paper Chase once said that when you graduate from an Ivy league college like Harvard you don't get a degree. "You get a Pedigree."

How true, how true.

You'll never meet anyone who graduates from an Ivy league who's a failure and you'll never meet anyone who went to a "big name" school like Notre Dame, Seton Hall, and so on and so on who doesn't land a job in their field.

You'll meet a million public university graduates who never were able to get a job in their field--I can come up with a list of 20 off the top of my head.

Hey, I'm a Public university graduate.

May. 12 2009 07:08 AM

College debt really has to be addressed. I spent an arm and a leg for two ivy-league degrees, and I don't doubt that it makes other people perk up their ears a bit, maybe look at my resume a bit more closely, but really has not opened enough doors to make it worth the amount of debt that I will be in for the rest of my life. My loan payments are debilitating and pretty much dictate how I live my life.

Some things people are willing to pay for no matter what the price, seemingly out of necessity, but we've seen that not everything is immune to economic laws. When gas prices went up, drivers kept paying and paying b/c maybe they didn't have an alternative mode of transportation, but eventually their mindset changed and now we have hybrids and more bikers. Expensive college educations may follow the same path, when a cheaper alternative arises for better benefits.

May. 12 2009 07:03 AM

I think a college education is totally worth the debt as long as (1) you attend at least a second tiered national university or liberal arts college, and (2) you major in a discipline (e.g., accounting, information systems, or mathematics) that will give you a higher probability of securing a job with a salary large enough to pay back the debt.

May. 12 2009 06:56 AM

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