Trading Floor

The Trading Floor features comments, feedback and insight submitted by Marketplace sources. Help advise us about stories we’re working on, discuss the news of the day, and share your insight by joining the Public Insight Network.

FEATURED QUERY: Do you rely on tips for a living? Tell us more



Was college worth it?

  • Posted by Alison Brody
  • on July 7, 2010 1:36 PM

The Department of Education is cracking down on for-profit schools like the University of Phoenix and Kaplan because of the promises they make about career training and advancement. The worry is that students rack up debt only to find themselves working low paying jobs.

But graduates of for-profit schools aren’t the only ones in this situation. Students who pay $200,000 to go to non-profit institutions like NYU are also having trouble finding wages that match the price of tuition.

If you’re the proud recipient of a B.A., B.S., A.A., M.A. or Ph.D., Marketplace has a question for you: Was it worth it?

Discussion: 25 Comments

  • Posted by Dawit G on July 9, 2010 6:43 PM

    I started my college education at a community college, transferred to State University because the private Schools were too expensive (even if 50% of the tuition was going to be paid from scholarships and grants). I graduated 5 years ago with a Masters degree in Engineering.

    The cost for BS and MS: $60,000 to $70,000.

    Job wise: the market has been good for me so far. Nothing to complain. Was it worth it? Yes; absolutely. Would I feel the same if I had attended private university? Probably not; because I’ve always believed that getting degree from private universities in the US is way over valued. To justify their ridiculous costs, the schools often exaggerate the benefits a student gets when he/she graduates from these institutions. Would I have done better career wise if I had attended a private university? Not quite sure. What I find is that what school you go doesn’t really matter. I have had a chance to work with folks that attended private schools but haven’t seen them doing anything different at work, at least, not because they studied in these fancy private universities. One thing is clear though: they are likely to tell you they have huge sum of student loan to pay or they owe their parents huge amount of money from their college years. Bottom-line: the goal should be going for the lowest when you are a student and shooting for the most once you start your career. Here you go! That’s MBA in entrepreneurship itself.

    Good luck!

  • Posted by Elayne on July 14, 2010 2:11 PM

    I’m a proud earner of a bachelor in science from Carnegie Mellon and an MBA from the University of Arkansas so I’ve been a higher-ed student in both private and public schools.

    Both were worth it. Having said that, they had very different price tags attached to each, quite a lot for CMU and almost free (based on a scholarship I received) for my MBA from the University of Arkansas. My private school, in my opinion, was worth more overall because I know it has entered into my being interviewed even been factored into my hiring, based on what I’ve been told by interviewers and bosses (i.e. they like to mention to colleagues that I hired so and so, she got her degree from CMU, etc.) I don’t think it so much did anything for me but kept me from being on the cutting room floor when they did the initial weed-throughs of applications.

    Having said that, I don’t think I’ve been actually paid more at the end of the day because of one degree or another; having a master’s and having gone to a private school with a great brand has just gotten my foot in the door generally to either accept or turn down a particular job and associated wage. My choice of job (working in higher ed) has limited my income more than they could possibly make up for, but I still am happy with my choice.

    At any rate, even if I had paid more (yikes!) for my undergraduate degree, it would have been worth it to me. While at CMU, I met the love of my life, who is now my doting husband, so we both consider our CMU investments as ones that will have a positive (and compounding) return every day for the rest of our lives.

  • Posted by Gary on July 16, 2010 10:47 AM

    I earned degrees in physics and electrical engineering, and I have worked for several years. I can say based upon what I’ve experienced and what I’ve seen that it is not worth the COST that universities are imposing. The shelf-life of your degree is also short once out of school. Say you have a B.S. and you get laid off during an economic down turn, or your job gets shipped to India, then in order to get back into the game you are often compelled to go back and get a M.S.; otherwise you are sloughed off into the service industry.

    The crux of the problem is that we have exported most of our manufacturing base. Engineers are trained to design and build, not to spend their careers in testing the quality and safety of imports from China, or to support computer networks, or to manage technical sales. Those are things a person with a 2 year degree can easily do. So why are we exporting our manufacturing base? Corporate greed is the simple answer, but the root cause goes even deeper. It is because the Federal Government and the Federal Reserve are playing games with debt and the value of our fiat currency, which impacts what corporate America is able to finance. It is more expensive to manufacture here because THEY MAKE IT THAT WAY. In other words, Americans suffer so some d@mned politician can keep his job and some d@mned banker can get his multi-million dollar bonus. What you don’t know costs you out the wazoo … and Americans don’t understand neither their government nor their banking system.

  • Posted by tom fiorello on August 8, 2010 11:48 AM

    I’m embarrassed to say what college cost me compared to what college costs today. I have a BA from the University of Wisconsin and a graduate degree from a Long Island University, and the total was about $12,000, of course there’s been some inflation since 1970. But I honestly I think what it costs today is higher education robbery. If there’s anything that makes us more productive as a nation, it’s education, and sticking a twenty something with $100,000 in debt is cruel. If the government wants to spend money improving the economy, it should find a way to make education less expensive. I’m a liberal so the free market, no taxes world is not my thing. Though maybe Uncle Sam should take some courses in financial management. Was my education worth it: yes, many times over, especially one oddly titled course at UW called Social Disorganization [soc. 102] with Prof. Michael Hakeem, who thought me to think.

  • Posted by Bob Graham on August 11, 2010 8:19 PM

    College was definitely worth it for me. The cost may have seemed small in 1967 when I received a B.S. degree from a Big 10 University in Political Science with emphasis in City Planning and Public Administration. Today’s costs are about one and one-half years salary and the same was true then. I have had the priveldge of being a city planner/community development director for 43 years and at 70 years old I am continuing to work in government. My university strongly suggest giving something back to society and I have enjoyed doing that through many volunteer efforts using my expertise developed in college. One course that now seems very valuable is creative writing as I prepare reports, grant applications, and write newsletters and poetry. I was also able to play in the marching band and develop lifetime friendships and continue to play in volunteer groups. College broadened my perspective and our office group calls themselves the “wandering minds”, we don’t believe in thinking outside the box, because who ever invented the box to begin with. I understand how a community becomes a people together and have this saying; people with “I” trouble have poor vision, thus our constitution begins “we the people”.

  • Posted by Edward Walsh on August 31, 2010 7:29 AM

    college got me in the front door and my MA was worth an additional $40,000 per year in salary and $30,000 in pension

  • Posted by Maya on September 2, 2010 2:00 PM

    I went to college to enrich my mind and learn more about art, as I had wished from very young. Then I got an MA in Spanish so I could get paid what I was worth as a translator (didn’t work - highly competitive, poor counseling on this one). Taught 3 years art in state prison, got Hepatitis A, had to quit, went back to college, 36 credits, doctoral level, education. Conclusion: It’s worse than you think. Disability from Hep A forced end to all hope, very poor counseling in college if I wanted to earn real money - and since only death will stop my loan interest (I am on income contingent plan) my loan has spiraled from $18,000 to over $70,000 - income: social security, $1005.00/month - expert at low income living well!

  • Posted by Diana Maxwell on September 4, 2010 9:05 PM

    Absolutely yes. But then my dad was a professor at the university where I earned my undergraduate degree, so my college degree only cost the price of my books and school supplies (minus our 15% discount). My four year degree in Psychology and History from Bowling Green State University was only about $1000 for all five years. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have gotten value for the cost if we had paid much more. My daughter is currently attending the same school as an out of state student at a cost of about $28,000 per year and I am completely in favor of it. The experience, education, opportunities, contacts and friendships she has are priceless.

    That doesn’t mean that the cost of a degree is always worth it. I have one graduate degree in education and am working on a second and these degrees have been very valuable in opening job opportunities and increasing my salary. The courses are also invaluable because they provided information that I use everyday at work. On the other hand, when I was younger and stupid I made the mistake of earning a law degree from a private university even though I could tell within the first year or so that I hated law school and had no intention of ever practicing it. The law school is very prestigious and many people go there and earn more than enough to justify the exorbitant cost, but it definitely did not work for me. It took me decades to pay off that loan. At the time, I was very impressed by the status and reputation of a university and turned down full scholarships elsewhere to go to the private school.

    Now I think that it is important to look at yourself and your interests first and not to worry about the perceived status of the school. That only makes a difference in (maybe) getting your foot in the door, but eventually your work experience matters much more. Also, unless you are independently wealthy you need to really consider the cost of the school. You can limit your life options by taking on a greater burden of debt than you can afford to repay.

  • Posted by Michael Davenport on September 21, 2010 3:50 PM

    Recently the PBS news program Frontline aired a segment (College, Inc.). The program featured an inquiry into the for-profit college industry, and uncovered some unsettling facts (many have already been mentioned here).

    My first attempt at college was not worth it, because I never finished. Now, at 45 years old, I am a student again. I spent the past two years looking at online and other non-traditional paths to a Bachelor’s degree, and for students who already have significant progress toward a degree the best value out there is the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. They offer a BA in Business and BA in Humanities that are conducted completely online. Tuition (in-state) for a 12 credit hour (full-time) semester is under $1,500. The programs are accredited, and considering I’m enrolled right now I can assure you that the coursework is not easy. Even with out-of-state tuition this is much less expensive than the for-profit schools I looked at.

  • Posted by mknight on September 28, 2010 10:47 AM

    As an 18-year-old high school graduate who had worked since age 14 (and absolutely loved to be employed) but had no idea what to do with my life, I began college at a two-year junior college. I continued to work my way through college with the aid of federal grants, graduated with a BSE. That journey alone resulted in life experiences and in-class and out-of-class learning that bouyed me and gave me greater earning power. I taught school (grades 7-12) and then got in to the financial end (bookkeeper, business manager, v.p. of finance) in K-12 and eventually at a two-year college. Obtaining my Master’s degree was the most rewarding for me both professionally and personally.

  • Posted by anya on December 8, 2010 12:29 AM

    I also started out at an excellent community college in Texas before transferring my junior year to the University of Massachusetts. I was able to pay for my first 2 years of college, and my parents helped out with my last 2 years. To this day, my mother sometimes still holds it over my head that they spent about $20000 on UMass tuition. I got a degree in linguistics, with which I do absolutely nothing professionally, but it did allow me to go on to graduate school in New York City, which was absolutely the biggest waste of time and money of my life so far. Although I enjoyed working in the field of my degree (rehabilitation counseling), the degree program was not what it was advertised to be, and I ended up more heavily in debt through their work-study program than if I’d taken out a student loan. For that matter, I made more money as a secretary in Texas before I finished college than I did in New York City with a masters degree. As a result, I only worked in the field for 3 years before moving back to Texas to try to sort out my finances and go back to school for medicine.

    At the moment, I tutor at a learning enrichment center, and although it’s de rigeur to promote higher education to our students, I’m hard pressed at times to push it sincerely. A majority of the careers my students want to pursue will not pay incomes commensurate with the cost of tuition it will take to get where they want to be. Many are spending tens of thousands of dollars on private schools, tutoring services, test-taking services, etc, just to get into college! I find myself more often counseling my students that what they should do is do as much research as possible about what the world has to offer and flex their creativity about attaining their goals. If college is the best route to those goals, more power to them, but I don’t by any means consider it an absolute must for life.

    I wanted to pursue medical school, but after paying tuition for 4 additional years to finish my prerequisites, I realized that I don’t want to work until I’m 70 to pay off student loans. I do still plan to return to school, but I’m pursuing a career as a physician assistant; the tuition is less than 10% of what med school would have been, and I’ll be able to participate in more direct patient care instead of doing paperwork in the back office.

    Non-monetarily, I think there were both pros and cons to college. For a career in medicine, I absolutely recommend getting a college education. I also think people can benefit from the experiences of meeting people from all over the world and learning both academically and non-academically, and I value having universities where people can study just about anything they can possibly be curious about. It’s worth it to learn different problem-solving methods, different ways to examine and interpret the world. Can a dollar value be placed on that? Well, I suppose that depends on what a person can do with those skills.

  • Posted by K Omary on December 28, 2010 2:06 PM

    Personally, I feel my degree was a huge waste of time for me. I walked into college knowing nearly everything I know today. The only thing college did for my personal expertise ( * Computer Programming / IT ) - is fine-tuned a few skills for added professionalism. Due to archaic school policies - I was mostly stuck in courses where I’d study my own material … because I already knew the subject matter! Formalities are a thing of the past, we need better higher education as well as primary - education that better adapts to the advanced student - in ALL disciplines, as well as the students who are below the curve.

    The one thing I do appreciate from my degree - is my writing improved greatly from high-school level. I do tend to “simplify” my speech - as I come from a technical field … where big words equate to confusion.

    Truthfully, my general education from college is what I value most.

  • Posted by jasmine on December 31, 2010 2:36 PM

    I never looked at a college education as an investment that would earn a financial return. I knew that as an educated person I’d be able to get a better job than without, but to me that meant having a fuller life, not just earning more money. I’m grateful that the education I received gave me the critical thinking skills necessary to understand that an over-monetized life will not be rewarding.

    I think higher education should be about giving students the tools they need to contribute meaningfully to society: ‘ask not what a college education can give to you, but what it will enable you to give back to society.’

  • Posted by Rabbi Jason Miller on January 4, 2011 12:25 PM

    College was well worth the experience. If anyone looks at college as a means to an end, they are mistaken from the beginning. College is about the experience and learning how to learn. If someone is looking for a means to an end, they should go to a trade school or apprentice in their chosen field. College is where I learned how to research and write. It is where I learned more about myself than any other subject.

  • Posted by george riveros on January 6, 2011 2:39 PM

    I agree with Jasmine and Rabbi Jason Miller 100%, and probably many agree with their experience with college.

  • Posted by Brooke Baggett on January 19, 2011 2:35 PM

    Attending a university that offers a wide-range of opportunities and learning environments definitely helps to develop a person, however, the opportunity cost of college is only low if you are motivated and take advantage of these experiences. If a student avoids studying, or perhaps doesn’t ever learn to study efficiently, then there is a chance that he will leave without gaining much knowledge. This is different for the determined student that applies his knowledge daily and seeks opportunities to master his field. College, for me, is a place to grow and learn more about myself. If there was an issue for the Dept. of Education to look into, it is the problem with people being in school that just waste time and space, while there are plenty of people eager to learn that would benefit more from the experience, but perhaps can’t afford it.

  • Posted by Maryanne Coppinger on January 27, 2011 8:55 PM

    College, the first go-round, was worth all the time, money and effort. I learned about myself, I met great people who influenced me, and I found great books that shaped my thinking for the many years since. I attended two private schools and one public school in order to pull together my BA. However, I recently completed an MA and I must say that I was not challenged by the public institution I attended. Maybe it was the school &/or the program, maybe it’s the times, But I am disappointed. It felt like an assembly line for acquiring credits rather than a place to explore theory and critical thinking. Still, I’m glad I went back and I think it was worthwhile to feed my mind. How it will feed my purse is still to be determined.

  • Posted by Anna Belleau on February 2, 2011 2:14 PM

    Yes, my Associates Degree in Applied Science- specializing in Respiratory Care has opened every door I have ever passed through in my adult life. Through it I have been gainfully employed, owned my own business and even met my husband!I do have to confess I chose it because at the local junior college, there were two programs that you could get through in three years and get a good job with good pay. RT and nursing. I knew I did not want to be a nurse, so I started the RT program with no real clue as to what the job was!

  • Posted by Frank Luke on February 22, 2011 12:39 PM

    I had a liberal arts education majoring in what was then called Graphic Design (commercial art). Art is a wonderful way to get general knowledge, history, foreign cultures, et al.

    Now 76, I feel so fortunate to have had the education I got, I feel my quality of life would not be so rich without having gotten it. I’m a grateful constant listener to NPR and that’s been my continuing ed.

    Lots of what I know was obtained after school days but schooling prepared me for what I’ve done with my learning. As we know, the worth of learning isn’t clear when you’re learning and only gets clearer in the real world.

    Education is only as good as what you do with what you know, right?

  • Posted by Heather Jacobs on March 16, 2011 7:23 PM

    Was my four year degree worth it? Yes and no.

    I spent four years studying sociology and criminal justice and in 2006 receive my Bachelors of Science in Liberal Arts. I made a few class scheduling errors and paid the price with horrible grades in those such errors that took a hit on my GPA.

    During my time in college and experiencing those errors I learned quite a bit, but academically it didn’t help nor hurt me when looking for a job.

    I spent a year after college looking for a job. I was still employed in my college job, but very dissatisfied. Other then the predictable job fairs and interview assitance seminars there wasn’t an intense amount of support from the College in job placement. Technically I was placed because I was working. That’s my biggest complaint about my college years.

    Without college it would have been hard to get into my current job. My internship (with the organization I currently work for) was instrumental in getting me hired. It was a requirement and the organization would not had let me interned had I not been in school. So yes college was good, but it hasn’t helped my pay.

    I rarely use what I learned in college at work, there are ocassions when I can, mostly in deep conversations with my co-workers. While they typically only hire those with college degree, a Highschool Diploma/GED is the only thing required for my position. Experience is preferred.

    I’m not going to complain. I’m in a job I enjoy most of the time. I don’t think I’d be here with out my college degree. I must think it’s good because I’m working on major 2 and 3 of my Bachelor’s.

  • Posted by ESW on April 25, 2011 7:09 AM

    Hell yes!

  • Posted by Marc Resnick on May 13, 2011 11:23 AM

    I have degrees from small private schools and large state schools. I have also been a professor at small private schools and large state schools. In some cases the choice really matters. In others, not so much.

    The default position for a BS or BA degree should really be two years at a community college and then two at a high quality State University where you get in-state tuition. The money you save on tuition, over time, is often worth more than the extra value of the exclusive schools. The exception is when there is a specific program, scholarship, or other special case.

    On the other hand, for grad school the quality of the department and research adviser is what matters most. Applicants should identify a leader in the field and apply to his or her department. That name starts out your professional social network very strongly and follows you around for 5-10 years after graduation.

  • Posted by Cecilia on May 24, 2011 10:46 AM

    I attended a 2 year communicate college, I could not afford more. I started at entry level jobs and through hard work and lots of dedication I convienced many employers to give me an opportunity to prove myself. I now make 6 figures (20 yrs later) and no single employer ever asked me what school I attended, my record and accomplishments speak louder than my diploma. God bless America and those individuals that are willing to give others an opportunity to succeed.

  • Posted by Jennifer on June 25, 2011 7:41 PM

    Yes and no.

    I went to an out of state major university, on scholarship, with no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I loved the classes I took and cherish the experiences I had. I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in English and still no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I wish I’d had a good advisor or career counseling while I was at school.

    My biggest regret is that when I did finally decide what I wanted to do I went to an out-of-state university for graduate school, racking up about $40,000 in debt to go into a field where my first full-time job out of grad school paid $27,000 a year. Again, career counseling would have been helpful.

    Students need guidance, and that guidance is often not provided as schools, even traditional ones, more and more frequently see students as commodities rather than people.

  • Posted by Roy Gathercoal on August 13, 2011 4:06 AM


    We need to recover and rediscover the difference between job training and education.

    Training is specific knowledge how to do a particular task or group of tasks. Training loses almost all of its value when technology changes.

    Education is our ability to learn, to take others’ perspectives, to adapt present knowledge to new situations, to learn from our mistakes and (hopefully) the mistakes of others.

    When we confuse these, education loses. Every time.

    This is not to defend bad teaching (or learning) in either setting, nor to say that either is not needed. They are different.

    Employers ought to be responsible for training their employees. The public ought to be responsible for educating our public. If we don’t have a work force that is up to the task expected of them within a particular technology, that is the problem of the employer or industry.

    If our electorate doesn’t read, can’t think, and constantly falls for even simplistic demagoguery, that is a failure of our educational system.

    There will always be people who lack the ability to be trained for more complex tasks. There will always be folks who choose to take the easy and wrong solution rather than thinking things through. We can not, and should not, try to prevent either.

    Yet isn’t there something wrong with a picture in which workers with advanced degrees in humanities, history and languages are stuck working as wait staff and construction work while employers complain that their employees, trained to work on the last generation of technology, can’t read well enough or think creatively enough to migrate to the latest technology?

    Let us recognize the difference between the highly trained person who cannot think and the creatively thoughtful person who is not trained—and adapt our educational systems accordingly.

    The answer cannot be to try and make everyone the same, can it?

Inform the news

Overheard on the Trading Floor