By Drew Schlotter, CFP®, CCFC
Wait, College Costs How Much?
The cost of college, and the resulting value (or lack thereof) are a hot topic among parents, students and the media. Costs are going up, student debt is ballooning, and politicians are talking about free education while they cut state funding to universities. In this 3-part series, we’ll discuss how the cost of college has changed in recent years, how public perception and employment data differ on the importance of a degree, and what we can do to maximize the value students and families get out of the college experience.
By now, I’m sure you are aware of the rapid increase in the price of an undergraduate degree in the United States. The Biden administration has put forward legislation to provide student loan debt forgiveness, and the law is currently being debated in the Supreme Court.
In 1985, tuition and fees for a full-time student at my alma mater, Texas A&M University, was $144 per semester. In 2023, that number is $6,671. In 1985, the cost of attendance (tuition & fees, room & board, books, and supplies) for four years was about $20,0000. Today, you are looking at about $120,000 for four years. There are many contributing factors to the staggering college inflation over the last 40 years, and those are a worthy topic for another time.
The question is “Is a 4-year college degree worth the price of attendance?” The answer largely depends on who you ask, and how the question is framed. Public opinion on the topic has shifted significantly in recent year, with many people doubting the value of an undergraduate degree given the costs. The US labor statistics and economic data, on the other hand, continue to make a compelling case for a 4-year degree. I believe the truth lies in the nuances between the frustration of the general public and the objective math of the job statistics. The decisions college-bound students and their families make in planning for, selecting and attending college, are a primary driver in the value of a college education.
In Part 2, we’ll examine recent shifts in pubic perception and how they compare with the reality when it comes to earning potential for college graduates.