College Bound or Debt Bound?
In a college economics class, we once figured the economic cost of college and measured it against the average income in our degree field. We then compared this to someone withouth the higher education degree who had started working out of high school at a fast food restaurant. When the assignment was given, I groaned in my spirit. I already knew how this was going to turn out. I wanted to be a teacher.

According to Preparing Your Child for College, in 1998-99, the average cost of attending a state school, including tuition, fees, room, board, books, transportation and other personal expenses was $10,458. Multiply that by four: $41,838. These are more recent statistics than I used back in college. At the time, I did not think the comparison wholly accurate. For one, I commuted. Also, a lot of the expenses being added up also apply to the person who begins working immediately. Still, one cannot ignore the fact that the average college student graduates with a degree and $27,600 in college debt. Add to that $4,000 in credit card debt, 70% of which went to buy books, food and school supplies.

The average salary for someone just out of college is only $30,000. It will take a long time to pay off that kind of debt with that kind of income. Even without the interest rates.

And if you start working right out of high school? I worked at Burger King at the time making $7.00 per hour. Working full time (which I did even in college) that would earn about $14,500 per year. It doesn't take long to get your first promotion since the fast food business has such a high turnover rate. That $1.25 raise would have earned me approximately $17,000 per year. Not a lot, and not going to support a family. But within four years, you will most likely have climbed the ranks at least to Assistant Manager (average $26,000 per year) and be on your way to Restaurant Manager ($35,000 per year).

So after four years it is quite likely that your earning potential would be equal to that of the college graduate. He has the debt yet to pay down while you may be ready to make an offer on a house. He has a piece of paper and you are established in your career. His next step is an entry level position, possibly even temp work. Or working in a fast food restaurant while lining up interviews. Your next step is District Manager, making $53,000 per year. Or possibly you would like to begin saving to purchase your own franchise.

No matter what career you choose, four years work experience is superior to four years in the classroom. The problem, of course, is in what you want to do. The economics of the situation did not change the fact that I wanted to teach and that wasn't happening without a degree. And in many careers, there is a ceiling to how high you can go without a degree.

There is, however, the interesting alternative of distance learning. This option is far less expensive and far less time consuming than the traditional classroom. And statistics since the 1920's show that students in these environments score as well as their more traditional peers. Recent studies actually indicate a slight edge to the distance learners. This, of course, has a lot to do with who is choosing this option. Young professionals looking to gain an edge through an online degree is hardly a fair comparison to someone who just graduated high school and did not know what to do next other than college. This is a relatively small study, but the results are interesting if you are looking into this option for college.

This obviously speaks only to the economic side of the question. I have some thoughts on the spiritual side as well, but that will have to wait. In fact, it may span two or three posts as I have at least that many sides to the question to ponder. As a start, Semicolon has a good take on college and why you should or shouldn't go.

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