Paying for College

There have been a number of articles written lately about the high cost of a college education, student loans and how for many Americans a college education is out of their reach.  These articles allude to the fact that it is becoming more and more difficult for people to obtain a college education and that as a result the United States is becoming less competitive.

I always find it difficult hearing people complain about how they can’t afford college or how they have to delay their education, to “save”.  While I understand the cost has risen since I was in college, I think there are many more college options available today; online programs, community colleges, states schools and private universities.  If someone wants an education, it is in their reach.  It is about priorities and sacrifice.  Sometimes the things are are worth the most are the hardest to achieve.

In its most recent survey of college pricing, the College Board reports that a “moderate” college budget for an in-state public college for the 2012–2013 academic year averaged $22,261.  A moderate budget at a private college averaged $43,289.  While the cumulative total ranges from $90,000 to 175,000 for those finishing in 4 years.  There are many options for students to pay for this savings, student loans, grants, scholarships, and working.

In my situation, I went to a 4 year private school and paid for it with little to no help from my family.  I used grants, student loans, and work to pay for my education.  I was determined to get an education and better myself.  I worked full time and went to school full time.  I worked two jobs during the summer and I made sacrifices to obtain a higher education with the goal of having a ‘better’ life than I would have without an education.  I didn’t feel I had a choice and did what was necessary.

When I graduated, in 4 years, I had an enormous amount of student loan debt.  My sacrifice continued even after college to pay off my student loans.  I made weekly payments to minimize interest, I used any extra money to pay off my student loans.  I did what I needed to in order to pay back my loans.  I didn’t default on my loans like I hear many people doing today, because it became easier than continuing to pay back.  While paying back my loans, one of my motivations was this little voice in my head that said to me… “you paying these loans back will enable others to get an education.”   I worked hard, and paid it all off well before the end of the repayment period.

According to the US Census Bureau, persons with doctorates in the United States had an average income of roughly $81,400.  The average income for an advanced degree was $72,824, with men averaging $90,761 and women averaging $50,756 annually.  Year-round full-time workers with a professional degree had an average income of $109,600 while those with a Master’s degree had an average income of $62,300.  Overall, “…average earnings ranged from $18,900 for high school dropouts to $25,900 for high school graduates, $45,400 for college graduates and $99,300 for workers with professional degrees.

I point out the earnings differential between those with a degree and those without to point out the economic value and pay back period.  A person with a 4 year degree will earn over $20k more per year compared to someone without a college degree.  Assuming that a 4-year degree cost, $90k, that is a 4.5 year pay back.  Considering that most people today have a 35-40 year career, from an economic stand point, a 4-year degree is well worth the investment.  If someone is able to do an online program or part of a 4-year degree at a lower cost community college, the economics become even more positive.

Anyone desiring an education, can obtain one.  There are many types of programs and options for paying.  It may require creativity, sacrifice and hard work but, in the end, it will be well worth the effort.

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