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2024 - Why College is Right for You

Tags: Going to College
Published 06/13/2024
Students smiling in classroom

Students smiling in classroom

Fewer and fewer high school graduates are going to college. It’s an alarming rate for colleges nationwide, as the enrollment rate fell to 61.4% in 2023 — the lowest rate in at least three decades

This comes on the heels of an ongoing national conversation — is college worth the investment? 

Debt is a real problem for many in college. A statistic shows that 54% of the 2021 class of bachelor’s degree recipients left their four-year public and private colleges with an average balance of $29,100. While student loan debt is one thing, paying for college at an average cost of $36,436 per student, per year, is its own challenge giving families pause when considering college. 

So, what’s a person supposed to do? What’s the value of a college degree? 

Long-term earnings and college savings

A recent study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce examined what a college degree is worth. The results are eye-opening. According to the study, a college degree is worth 84% more over a lifetime than a high school diploma. Over a lifetime, this equates to $964,000 more — nearly $1 million more in lifetime earnings. And according to the study, a master’s degree will earn you $1.4 million more in your lifetime. 

Reducing College Debt

While earning more over a lifetime is beneficial, some find it hard to pay for college and don’t want to be saddled with debt. Community colleges can help students reduce the initial investment due to lower cost per credit hour. At Elgin Community College (ECC), 97% of students pay for college free from student loan debt. That’s a dramatic shift from the national average. Students who go to ECC and then transfer to a four-year college, save an average of $19,270 due in part to a lower, subsidized cost per credit hour. 

Finding a job or a career

A benefit of college is to find a field of study that connects with your interests. At a community college, while pay less per class, you have the freedom to explore different programs and classes and quickly change programs to align your degree program to your interests. ECC offers a free tool that helps current and future students discover majors and in-demand careers based on their interests. The tool uses your interests to identify your unique traits that match career options. Then, you can explore these different careers and their job growth and earning potential. Community colleges also generally have a team of career specialists to help students identify and map out a career path. 

ECC’s career development service professionals assist people with choosing a major, exploring career options, defining professional goals, and seeking a job. While you may graduate from high school and start a decent-paying job, college provides you with more opportunities to discover a meaningful career and help you develop a plan to invest in yourself and your long-term ambitions. 

Gaining relevant on-the-job experience 

Internships and apprenticeships can help college students get on-the-job experience. The challenge for many students is to do so early enough in their education to ensure it’s a field that they’ll want to continue in. ECC’s Jasmine Aguinaga engaged in an internship to do just that. As a criminal justice student, she said, “I wanted to see if it was truly something I was interested in before continuing down that path — I didn’t want to graduate, become a police officer, and realize it’s not what I thought it would be.” Apprenticeships are paid and set students up to have a job upon graduation. Internships, often paid, provide students with applying classroom skills in a real-world environment.

Why go to college? 

While some people may believe going to college is not worth the cost, a college education can lead to greater lifetime earnings and help you have a rewarding career. If you start at a local community college like ECC, you can save money without significant debt weighing you down. You can take advantage of free resources like career coaches, and career development specialists, to help you find a meaningful career path. And before you enter the job force, or transfer to a four-year institution, you can gain real-world experience with an apprenticeship or internship to ensure you’re on the path that was meant for you.