The Atlantic has earned a lot of raised eyebrows with its recent article entitled “The Myth of the Student Loan Crisis.” The myth, they say, is that college is increasingly expensive, maybe even not worth it, and that graduates are saddled with an untenable amount of debt. Private institutions like Harvard, with price tags of about $57,000 per year, seem so exorbitant that only the very rich can afford them and therefore the rich are destined to get richer while kids from poor families are destined to get poorer.
This “crisis” is completely exaggerated, Atlantic writer Derek Thompson told Public Radio International’s show “Marketplace.” First of all, he says, the average cost of a place like Harvard, sticker price notwithstanding, is more like $20,000 after all the grant money, scholarships and so forth are taken into account. Besides, that $57,000 figure also includes estimated costs of living. Get your cost of living down by taking on an extra roommate or skimping on certain luxuries and you might see your annual cost drop by another $1,000 or $2,000.
If Taking on Debt is a Gamble, It’s a Gamble with Excellent Odds
In The Atlantic‘s now well-known infographic on student loan debt, one graph in particular stands out. A pink horizontal bar graph shows the median weekly income for individuals with different levels of education on the right and unemployment figures for those same groups of people on the left. The statistics are very clear: The more education you have, the more money you will make and the less likely you will be to be unemployed. In 2011, for example, people without even a high school degree had an unemployment rate of a whopping 14.1 percent with a weekly median income of $451. Just a few rows up the ladder, people with a two-year associate degree were making $768 per week and had an unemployment rate of only 6.8 percent.
Economists agree that there’s a crisis in the middle class, but they wouldn’t agree that eschewing college due to the cost or the amount of debt people are likely to get into is the way to solve that crisis. In fact, they state that the solution is the exact opposite. The best way to solve the middle class crisis is to give middle class and working class Americans better job skills. Better job skills require more education. Education sometimes requires debt — and not as much debt as most people think. The majority of economists think that the trade-off between short-term student loan debt and long-term earnings is a good sacrifice to make for middle class and working class families.
A Little Degree Goes a Long Way
Another public radio program, “This American Life,” ran an interesting episode a few weeks ago entitled “Trends with Benefits.” In it, reporter Chana Joffe-Walt explores a disturbing trend: There’s been an unnoticed, nearly invisible explosion in the number of people on disability insurance over the last couple of decades. One conclusion she comes to is that many people seek to get classified “disabled” after being laid off from a manual labor or manufacturing job after many years of service. Feeling that they are no longer useful to the economy and will be unable to get a new job, she found that many individuals are simply “retiring early” by finding a doctor who will diagnose them as unfit for work.
Adults who find themselves in this type of position are often intimidated by the cost, time commitment and academic workload involved in going back to school. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Online schools, which can be accessed from anywhere in the country and which today are often competing head-to-head with traditional schools, offer many flexible educational opportunities for adults who are going back to school halfway through their working lives. For example, adults who need new job skills could consider completing an online certificate program or an online associate degree rather than going back to school full-time for a four-year degree. For adults who realize their skills are starting to become out-dated but don’t want to quit working, online schools provide the perfect way to work and go to school at the same time. Even completing an online course a few weeks long puts working adults one step ahead of their peers when it comes to getting a new job.
Conclusion: It’s More Worth It Than You Think
Whether you’re new to the workforce or someone who’s starting to feel like a relic from another era, completing a college degree or an online certificate program is definitely worth the money. It’s even worth the debt. Before jumping into a certificate program or degree program, however, do some homework first. Check out our other articles on this site about the best way to find a qualified online school, the best degrees to earn and how to get out of student loan debt once you’ve acquired it. Choose carefully and you will be very glad you decided to make the effort to earn more education.