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Make sure college is worth the high cost

You may experience a case of sticker shock if you are entering the world of college admissions for the first time.

Average annual tuition, room and board, and expenses now hover around $50,000 at many four-year private colleges, and $15,000 for public institutions. How many of you have wondered if it's really worth $250,000, or even $60,000? This is especially true when you hear the disappointing graduation rates or postgraduation debt figures.

Federal statistics show just 36 percent of full-time students who started college in 2001 received a bachelor's degree within four years. Even with two extra years, that group's graduation rate increased only to 57 percent.

The average student debt at graduation in 2008 was $23,000.

Employment numbers indicate a college degree is worth the investment. In February 2010, the unemployment rate among those with a least a bachelor's degree was 5 percent, compared to 15.6 percent for those with a high school diploma.

Long-term benefits are even more encouraging. According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, "over an adult's working life, high school graduates can expect, on average, to earn $1.2 million; those with a bachelor's degree, $2.1 million."

Still, college isn't for everyone. About 80 percent of students in the bottom quarter of their high school class will probably not get a bachelor's degree, or even a two-year associate's degree.

Many such students would be better off being directed to short-term vocational and career training. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 30 fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. in the next decade, only seven typically require a bachelor's degree. These include registered nurses, home health aides, store clerks and customer-service representatives.

Starting at a community college gives these students the tools to succeed and believe in their own capabilities — without as much damage to the pocketbook.

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit

Make sure college is worth the high cost 07/27/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 8:30pm]
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