Last week I heard about a recent study conducted at the University of Minnesota showed that a full 20% of U of M students there had, at some point, worried that they wouldn’t have enough food to eat. Frankly, this statistic stunned me. Why on earth would a student choose college when they couldn’t even afford food to eat?
In the 1800’s only 4 percent of high school graduates attended college. In 2014, over 65 percent of high school graduates attended college. Some may see this as a good thing, and it may be. However, it’s important to look at the whole picture. Consider these facts:
- College graduates in 2015 graduated with an average of over $35,000 in student loan debt.
- The unemployment rate for all workers, according to this survey, is 5.5%
- The unemployment rate for workers under age 25 is over double that of workers over 25, standing in 2014 at 12.3%
- The unemployment rate for college grads under age 25 was 7.2%
Although the unemployment rate for college grads is lower than that of their age group as a whole, we must take into account that, on average, 71% of those degreed college graduates leave school with student loan debt, adding to their financial burden. Although there are deferment options for the unemployed in some cases, the burden of owing debt still looms over the college grad’s psyche.
Up until the 1950’s, when it came to a college degree, it was “pay cash or stay home”. And even then, student loans were only available for certain types of degrees such as engineering, science or education degrees. Just as with the rest of American credit, approval standards for student loans have now expanded on a ginormous level and pretty much anyone who wants to borrow money for college or anything else can do so. This expansion of credit, as you likely know, has created a tremendous debt burden on society as people borrow more and more and as wants become “needs”, which leaves them wondering how they’ll ever pay off their debt.
So, the question becomes: is college a good idea if you don’t have the money to pay for it? Or if you can pay for tuition but not afford to eat once you’re there? One can argue that this is why the government should step in and make college a part of the public education system like Norway and Sweden do, but seriously, folks, can a country with 19 trillion in national debt really afford to add the college tuition of 20 million college students to its debt load?
College: Determining if it’s Right for You or Your Child
The fact of the matter is that not every person can or should go to college. Some should skip it simply because they can’t afford it. The “I’ll worry about student loans later” mindset is ruining young lives. Check out posts on high economic and social costs of student loan debt for more info.
So the question must become: “Is college right for me (or for my child) at this time?” There are several factors to consider before giving yourself or your child the privilege (or the burden) of a college education.
- What do I want to be when I grow up? Some high school graduates may prefer a job in an industry that requires tech school or on-the-job-training instead, and that’s okay.
- What is the job market for my preferred profession? Just because you want a career as a paying musician or artist doesn’t mean you’re going to get one. The jobs that pay well in those markets are few and far in between, but the college degree costs associated with those types of degrees still run in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars
- Is the career field I’ve chosen a profitable one? Social workers in the U.S. make an average of between $38,000 and $47,000 per year. Is that going to be enough of an income to pay off your average of $35k in student loans and support yourself?
College Debt Solutions
Before you sign on the dotted line to attend your college of choice, consider some solutions for avoiding heavy amounts of student loan debt and putting yourself in a situation where you’ll suffer financially and struggle to have food to eat.
Recommended Reading: Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents
Make your plan for paying for college long before you step foot on the college campus.
- Will parents help? (ASK, don’t assume).
- Can you delay college by three or four years and work to save up for school in the interim in order to avoid student loans?
- Can you enter your field of choice without a degree and work your way up?
- Can you gain employment with a company that will pay for all or part of your degree as you work?
- Can you complete your first two years of school at a less expensive community college and transfer to a university in year three?
- Is your heart’s desire a factor in your college or employment choice? While there is a balance to be had, it’s a waste of time and money to pursue a degree in engineering if you’d be much happier being a welder.
If you’re already in college and worried about accumulating student loan debt or about not having enough money for food, consider the following options:
- Drop down to part-time status at school and get a part or full-time job that will allow you to eat and pay cash for most of your schooling
- Buy used books as opposed to new books
- Work to find cheaper off-campus housing or find a school where you can live with parents if that’s agreeable to everyone
- Transfer to a less expensive school
- Drop out altogether and go back once you have the cash in hand. If you currently have loads of student loans already, know that you’ll have to start paying them back if you choose this route
- Work to cut expenses where you can. Stop going out on the weekends, or meet at someone’s home instead of clubbing it. Stop buying clothes and other items that aren’t necessities. Skip eating out and eat at home. Mark Cuban ate ketchup and mustard sandwiches so that he could save as much money as possible to grow his dream of being a biz owner. If Mark Cuban isn’t too good for crap food, neither are you. And since most college students survive on pizza and beer, you can’t use your health as an excuse to overspend on food.
Frankly, it just doesn’t seem reasonable to me to put yourself in college if you have no financial plan for paying for it, have no idea what it will cost or how to properly budget, and haven’t thought about the years after you’re done with school. Too many kids these days go to school for reasons of status or in order to please over-bearing parents.
When it comes to college, the decision about whether to go or not should be made carefully. Having a college degree, a job you hate and tens of thousands in student loan debt is far removed from the original version of the American dream.