Former FDIC chair Sheila Bair is the latest to weigh in on whether college is really worth the money it costs.
Her column on the topic over at CNBC is a must-read (particularly if you or somebody you know is grappling with the issue).
Is a college degree really worth a million dollars over the working life of a graduate?
Bair examines the question:
It is commonly said that a college degree will generate more than $1 million in additional income during a graduate's lifetime. Indeed, that seductive statistic can even be found on the Department of Education's website. Unfortunately, I fear many students and their families have borrowed heavily, lured by this seven-figure "college premium."
Yet this premium is an average and varies widely by the choice of major. Capturing the premium depends on students graduating, and less than 60 percent do so, leaving many with the worst of both worlds: debt and no degree. In addition, it represents enhanced income, not wealth, and the wealth premium college graduates used to enjoy has seriously eroded, presumably due in part to student debt obligations interfering with their ability to save and invest.
Consistent with that thesis, in the recent CNBC Invest in You and Acorns Savings Survey , when asked what kept survey participants from saving more money, the most common answer among college graduates was "paying off debt."
Some college borrowers don't fully understand what they are undertaking.
Most loans, Bair points out, are made by the government but arranged by colleges.
College "award" letters, she writes, aren't always clear on the level of debt that will be required of a student to complete her education. Indeed, financial terms are not disclosed in a standardized way that allows comparison with other offers.
Most colleges, she says, don't report earnings by graduates according to majors, which would be an important bit of information for somebody considering taking on debt.
Here is an interesting bit of information:
Most college degrees will produce a solid income premium. On the other hand, the average cost of a four-year degree at a private college is about $160,000. Investing that money at 5 percent over a 40-year career would also yield well over $1 million.
College can be a great experience. I cherish the notion there are still scholars out there who devour the classics and view college as something in addition to a being a way to make money.
But it is importantthat young people make their decisions knowing the real costs and other options up front.