With the increasing costs of attending college and the decreasing number of job opportunities in certain careers, students and their families need to make sure their decision doesn't end up putting their economic future in jeopardy. The key to making a college degree worth the investment is settling on a career choice that will provide the wage level you are seeking, and then finding a college with a tuition rate that makes the most financial sense.
For Emily, a top student from a mid-sized Midwestern community, going to college on the East Coast was her dream since middle school. She wanted to study dance in hopes of joining a national ballet company in New York. However, after researching the costs of attending her chosen out-of-state university - along with housing and related expenses - and determining her potential earning power upon graduation, Emily realized that the amount of debt she would owe could take her years to repay and have a weighty affect on her lifestyle.
According to a study by the Georgetown University Center on Education, getting a college degree in any major is worthwhile. Depending on the chosen degree, the lifetime earnings advantage range from just over $1 million for engineering majors to $241,000 for education majors. And while both of these numbers seem impressive to a 17- or 18-year-old high school student, if you factor in the cost of getting that degree, the resulting debt could seriously erode the financial gain.
Finding balance between what you pay for your education and what you'll earn once you graduate
According to the latest statistics from the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for a public four-year college is $7,605 per year for in-state students and $11,900 for out-of-state students. Private, nonprofit four-year colleges average $27,293. This doesn't include the cost of books, housing, food or any other expenses. The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook provides current data on the education requirements, working conditions and earnings power of hundreds of different career choices each year. This handbook is a valuable resource in understanding employment and wage potential.
After doing her research, Emily learned that she could expect to earn somewhere between $7.28 and $12.22 an hour as a dancer - plus room and board if she was on tour - which was much less than she had hoped. She also learned that the employment outlook for dancers is expected to grow slowly and that competition for jobs is intense. Given that the four-year tuition cost to attend her chosen university was nearing $100,000, she decided to rethink her plan and pursue a degree in school administration at her nearby state university.
As a residual benefit of her research, Emily continued to pursue her love of ballet as an instructor at a local dance studio. This provided her good on-the-job teacher training and enough money to help pay her college expenses and lower the debt she faced upon graduation.