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 collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.