College. It’s a magical word, signifying learning and independence. Last year there were just under 20 million students enrolled in colleges and universities, paying as much as $60,000 a year for a degree they hope will help them get a good job and ensure their future. And why not?
Statistics say college graduates earn $30,000 or more annually than high school grads.
But another statistic tells a different story:
In 2012, one in three college graduates had a job that only required a high school diploma.
So, when all those mortarboards get thrown in the air, are the degrees they represent worth what they cost?
To hear your instincts we went to the campus of Boston University, and north to Lowell, home of UMass Lowell.
We also connected using social media on Skype and FaceTime where we heard how the conflict over college costs and careers squeezes students.
“In reality we end up going to school for these numerous amount of years to get this degree and then working only to pay off college, so it’s like we’re going to college to get a job to pay for college. And I don’t think, it’s not worth it,” said Christina Moody, a Lynn high school student.
Andy Hiller asked,” Do you think your life will be the same if you go to college as if you don’t go?”
Moody said, “I think there will be some differences but there’s many people who don’t go to college and accomplish great things.”
Shub Dhital, a UMass Amherst college student, said, “Going to college is the right thing. I- yup, I’m a hundred percent sure about that. I mean… What’s your alternate choice, what else are you going to do? Are you going to go to McDonald’s and work? “
On the campus of Boston University, students say questions about whether college is worth it don’t end when you’re admitted:
Laurel Tisserand, a sophomore, said, “I’m getting a great education here and I do think that it’s worth it. B.U. has a lot of connections that I believe are going to help me out in the industry once I graduate.”
Hiller: “You know that some people who go to college when they graduate are underemployed?”
Tisserand: “Yea, yea absolutely… I have a lot of friends who have graduated recently and are having a lot of trouble finding full time employment and stuff.”
Brandon Kesselly a B.U. senior said, “College isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking to go into something that you know takes more time and effort and you can benefit more from being in a classroom, those are the types of people that should be going to college.”
Hiller: “What percentage of people do you think are here for the reasons you just described?”
Kesselly: “I probably want to say 49%.”
Hiller: “Less than half?”
Kesselly: “Less than half.”
Dale Mason a B.U. film major said, “Well I’m definitely gonna go into debt, without a doubt.”
Hiller: “How much do you think you’ll go into debt?”
Mason: “Oh, I’m going to hit 60.”
Hiller: “Is it worth it?”
Mason: “I just think it’s the way the prices are and I don’t really think it’s fair for everyone, but if it- if I have the means to do it by banks or loans or whatever, I guess I have to do it. I could be in film without a college degree. Yea, that’s kind of a bummer, but yea. I could.”
In Lowell, a working class city, we hear how college changes lives, in reality and in our imagination.
Jessica Wilson of Tyngsborough said, “I graduated from undergrad in 1999.”
Hiller: “Was College worth it?”
Wilson: “Absolutely…I went to study media but I learned a lot about networking and business and just so many other area because I went to college.”
Hiller: “What do you think happens to people who don’t get to go?”
Wilson: “Some people are really entrepreneurial and they might have a great career, but I think that without it, it puts you out of the running for a lot of entry level jobs.”
Hiller asked Diane Frechette of Lowell, “Did you go to college?”
Frechette: “No I did not.”
Hiller: “Do you feel like you missed something important?”
Frechette: “Definitely, I wish I had the chance to.”
Hiller: Why couldn’t you go?”
Frechette: “I couldn’t really afford to at the time.”
Hiller: “How do you think your life would be different, if at all, if you had gone to college?”
Frechette: “Yeah, I would have had a better career.”
Hiller: “Are you sure of that?”
Hiller: “So that means no matter what it costs, it’s always going to be worth it.”
Frechette: “I think so, I think so.”
After hearing your instincts, here’s mine: the promise of a college degree is priceless…so we’ll continue to pay whatever it costs, however we can.