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By Rachel Farhi
The Daily Cougar, U. Houston

(UWire)—Is a college degree worth the price? It depends.

Certain majors reap higher salaries than others, but most college graduates find themselves, no matter what they major in, making on average almost $20,000 more per year than high school grads.

If this is the case for a graduate, loans should not be too problematic, provided he or she can make sacrifices and good financial decisions.

But why do people really go to college? The majority of presidents of four-year universities think it is for intellectual development and maturation. Presidents of vocational, for-profit and two-year community schools think of a degree as job training.

Explore careers.

Research higher education options.

The problem with both of these views is that the student, his or her family and plans for the future are left out of the decision.

Students and their parents should get real about when, where and why they should invest in a degree. Teens are herded into universities without a clear understanding of how much money they are about to spend and what it will get them in the long run.

Having a degree brings social capital. Every parent wants to experience the pride of their child's college graduation, but great amounts of time and money should not be spent on something purely for an ego stroke or to meet arbitrary expectations.

Furthermore, our snobbish attitude toward two-year colleges and certificates is unfair. So is looking down upon people who never have the opportunity, or who take time off.

My friend's parents took out huge loans so that she could enter a four-year college straight out of high school.

She chose a random Liberal Arts major, took much too long to complete it, and could not get a job afterwards. A few years later, she entered into a two-year nursing program; now she has a stable job and loves her work. Had she simply taken a few years off instead of rushing to an expensive state university, her peers may have looked down upon her, but she would have saved herself time, saved her parents money, and may have found her calling faster while working and helping support herself.

A student's major is the determining factor for career options. It would only make sense, then, for a student to enter a four-year institution knowing what field he or she wants to work in.

It might be a better idea to take two years off and hold a few diverse jobs instead of enrolling just for Mom and Dad. Many students enroll at 18 (or earlier), having worked only at Hollister or Target, and have never thought about building a career.

Students and their parents should get real about why they should invest in a degree. 

In that case, college becomes an expensive continuation of high school; the student might change majors multiple times, or take extraneous classes for lack of advising, and graduate in five or six years with more debt but nothing more to show for it.

College is worth the price for some people and not worth it for others. A step toward improving our higher education system could be improving how people make decisions and set realistic goals.

Parents should engage in a dialogue with high school students, not tell them "you must go" or "you can't go." A mandatory personal finances class during high school would also help young people make better decisions, avoid loan traps and manage their finances efficiently.

So would stressing the importance of college and career counselors, and reducing the stigma on public and community colleges. A Lexus might look shiny on the way to work, but a Corolla can get you to the same place and use less fuel.

Published August 24, 2011

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