What’s The Only Thing More Expensive Than Going to College?

The cost of college is skyrocketing, but a new report proves that at least one thing is worse than student loan debt: not having it.

What's The Only Thing More Expensive Than Going to College?

“For today’s young adults, the only thing more expensive than going to college is not going to college,” Paul Taylor told the New York TimesEconomix blog this week. Taylor is the author of a new report from the Pew Research Center entitled “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College.”

So there’s your answer. But the dynamics behind it aren’t so simple.

While it’s well-established that going to college pays off, the costs involved—notably the much-decried rise in tuition and the less-publicized rise in cost of living—are greater than they’ve ever been (UT’s tuition, by the way, is currently frozen). Student debt topped $1 trillion last year, a massive total larger than the GDP of many nations.

The report indicates that 66 percent of college-going millennials report taking out loans, up from just 43 percent of baby boomers. Between 2011-12 alone, student debt jumped 10 percent, with the average student incurring around $30,000 in debt, according to U.S. News & World Report. On top of that, to use a local example, Austin’s cost-of-living is almost nine percentage points above the national average.

But while it seems harder and harder to go to college, it’s even harder not to, according to the report, which shows declining income among high school graduates, broadening the earnings gap between college grads and non-grads. Wages for young high school graduates fell 10 percent after being adjusted for inflation, currently at an average of $28,000 per year. Young college grads, in contrast, earn $45,500 on average.

So, regardless of the cost, the payoff associated with college is still pretty big. In his “Tower Talk” blog, UT president Bill Powers takes on the question of whether college is worth it. He notes that the report “makes clear that, even from a purely economic perspective, the answer is yes.”

Powers also takes the opportunity to stress the economic benefit of graduating, rather than just attending. It’s not surprising, since the University is in the middle of a massive push to increase four-year grad rates to 70 percent by 2017.

“The median income of those who have some college education but did not graduate is $30,000, just $2,000 higher than those who did not attend at all,” Powers writes. “What better evidence could there be that college completion should be our highest priority?”

 Photo courtesy Sandy Carson.


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