Articles about rising college costs and growing student debt dominate the national headlines. There was even a feature film made on the subject—Ivory Tower—which premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and made its television debut Thursday night on CNN. There’s no doubt it’s a question on the minds of many high school students and their families as they ponder the future.
Certainly, paying for college is a major investment—for many, second only to the cost of buying a home. But, how do you judge a good investment from a bad one? The best way is to consider its rate of return.
While not every job requires four years of college, according to a recent study by the U.S. Census Bureau, an individual with a bachelor’s degree can expect lifetime earnings to be more than double that of someone with a high school diploma alone. Add a graduate or professional degree, and that figure goes even higher. It’s hard to argue that a college education isn’t one of the best investments you will ever make.
What’s more, unemployment among college graduates is about one-third that compared to those without a degree. Put another way, earn a college degree and you’re much more likely to have a job, and one that pays more. In that sense, the cost of not going to college is very high.
Still, the price tag can be daunting, especially to someone who comes from a family background where no one has gone to college before. The thought of going into debt to pay for college scares away many talented potential students—an important issue that calls for serious and ongoing dialogue.
That’s why it’s important to keep the price of high-quality higher education as affordable as possible, which is the mission of the 14 universities within Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education.
Our state-owned universities are focused on three things: access, quality and value. We are working to ensure the high-quality, high-demand degree programs we offer align with the demands of our students and their future employers. We continue our efforts to increase efficiency and accountability as a means to keep tuition manageable for Pennsylvania’s families.
In fact, the average price of tuition and fees at the State System universities is approximately half that of state-related schools Penn State, Pitt and Temple and a fraction of what many private universities charge. What’s more, the average total price of attendance—combined tuition, fees, room and board—at our 14 institutions is below the national average.
There is little question that higher education funding is an investment for the Commonwealth too, and the rate of return is just as high because our graduates form the foundation of Pennsylvania’s future. Nearly 90 percent of State System students are Pennsylvania residents, most of whom will remain here after graduation to live, work and raise their families, supporting the state’s economy as they do.
Is college worth it? The answer to that question remains a resounding yes—both for Pennsylvania’s families and for the Commonwealth as a whole.