Should Everyone go to College?

May 17, 2008

Nontraditional Student Going Back to CollegeConventional wisdom states that anyone who can afford to go to college, should. And those who can’t afford college should seek government grants, scholarships and fund the rest with student loans. In essence, college is essential to a brighter future, but how bright can your future be if you go to college?

The College Board, a not-for-profit association best known for governing the SAT® program, echoes the status quo that everyone benefits from a college education. According to a Board report, Education Pays, higher education improves the quality of life for college recipients and society. Higher education “yields a high rate of return for students from all racial/ethnic groups, for men and for women, and for those from all family backgrounds,” the report revealed.

But not everyone agrees with the College Board’s findings.

The Robertson Education Empowerment Foundation (REEF) states that the “Education Pays” report has many inaccuracies: i.e. REEF states that the report didn’t properly calculate the actual time it takes for students to obtain an undergraduate degree and college-related expenses such as textbooks and student fees, which can substantially increase the amount paid to the college.

The Foundation also states that many college graduates will spend the next 40 years after college to do little more than pay back college costs because the return on investment (ROI) from 0 to 4.37 percent is considered low yield by standard financial measures. Women have a lower ROI because they are paid less as employees.

“The data says that for an increasingly large number of students, especially white women and Hispanics, college can be a poor economic decision that does not improve their lives, but rather leaves them paying back debt for an extended period of time,” said Michael Robertson, founder of REEF. “The College Board, which makes money from students attending college, is not an objective source. Their conclusion that everyone should attend college, regardless of sex or race, misrepresents the data when accurate numbers are used that represent a typical college experience for a young person today…”

What does Robertson suggest potential students do instead of going to college?

He suggests that a prospective college student peg their money for a balanced portfolio with an average, annual return of 7.5 percent. Would-be students should also get a job, particularly straight out of high school. However, Robertson does concede that an education from a public university has a greater ROI than a private university.

For potential students who seek college as a platform for education, higher learning, Robertson states, “There may be other benefits beyond financial gains from college attendance. However, the huge costs of an average five-year college education are so enormous that they dwarf all other considerations. When you have $50,000 of debt that prevents you from buying a car, home or starting a business, the fact that you can appreciate poetry may be a small consolation,” he said. “This is the dramatic difference over the last few decades. When college was not the huge financial decision it is today, even if you didn’t see significant financial gains, there were other benefits to college attendance, which could make it a wise decision. Today, the numbers are so enormous that this one decision can impact your entire life.”

For potential older students, going back to college can have a more lasting effect into one’s senior years. Robertson states that in the REEF’s model, it was assumed that high-school students went directly into college. But for students going back to college or starting college at 30 years old, they would have to work full-time until they are 77 years old to receive the same financial benefit.


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