Editorial: Is college worth the money?

By The Daily Illini Editorial Board

With college tuition continuing to rise, many students (ourselves included) frequently find themselves wondering, “is going to college really worth it?”

We are taught from young ages that having a college degree is absolutely essential to future success — which there is inevitable truth to. But as costs continue to rise, college is becoming less and less feasible for potential students of all backgrounds. 

Undergraduate tuition and room and board at public institutions rose 39 percent between the 2002-2003 and 2011-2012 academic years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Further, between 2002 and 2012, enrollment in degree-granting institutions in the U.S. increased by 24 percent, growing from 16.6 million to 20.6 million students.

44,087 of those students are currently attending the University. That’s a lot of people, and a large portion of these people are paying the University a lot of money annually.

But are we all making the right decision by investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into postsecondary education?

Walter McMahon, economics professor emeritus, was featured in a September New York Times article about his new book “Higher Learning, Greater Good.” The book explores the economics behind postsecondary education.

In an article in today’s edition of The Daily Illini, McMahon said there is an overall benefit associated with attending college because “students with a college education save a larger percentage of their overall income.”

Conversely, Elizabeth Powers, associate professor of economics at the University, said in the same article that financial cost shouldn’t be the sole reason students choose not to attend college. 

“There are a number of for-profit schools that have been taking advantage of students who don’t know better, and cases of those people who have basically been ripped off has been very well publicized,” she said. “It’s still overwhelmingly true that on the average you’re better off with a college degree in the job market.”

We are stuck in a paradox: more and more people are going to college even though it’s becoming less affordable. College degrees are necessary for jobs, but as bachelor’s degrees become more ubiquitous, the need for postgraduate study is also on the rise, furthering the financial burden.

Politicians and figureheads at universities around the nation can talk endlessly about the need to lower tuition and make college more affordable, but we need tangible change and we need it now.

We need to find a plausible solution to this problem soon. It is unnecessary to ask the world, “is college tuition really too high?” — everybody already knows the answer. College tuition is too high, which is dangerous in a world where so many people are pursuing further education.