Is it worth it to go into debt for an education?

In my opinion? Totally.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say. So far, I do not have any student loans. My first year at the state university was provided for by federal financial aid and state grants, the second year, out of my own pocket. The times I’ve been at the local community college was out of my own pocket, as the cost was a very manageable $26 per unit (increased a bit but still dirt cheap compare to what some of my friends pay).

When I was riding on the Amtrak last month, I met a nice couple in their 60-70s; I invited myself to dinner with them (heh) and had a nice chat in their spacious cabin after dinner. As we cruise pass the Salton Sea, we talked at length about finances and some of the financial challenges young people face these days. One of the subject? The rising cost of higher education.

“The cost of college is a bit ridiculous these days,” said the friendly train mate, “when my wife and I went to school — and mind you, this was way before you were even born — we both finished out paying less than a few thousand!”

My train mate was entirely correct. The cost of higher education has more than almost tripled since the mid 1980s — from about $3,800 in 1986 for public institutions to $9,800 in 2005. Private institution? $9,600 in 1986 to about $26,000 in 2005. The inflation rate of tuition is at about twice of general inflation. According to FinAid.org, this means that a baby born today will pay more than three times the current tuition rate as they enroll in college.

These days, college students are graduating with a hefty student loan, and at times, accompanied by a hefty credit card debt. Saving for your child’s education, and managing your budget while in college has never been more important.

At these mounting cost and the prospect of even more expenses for the future generation, I still believe that it is entirely appropriate to go into debt for your education. The extremely important and crucial part? Facing the cost of higher education realistically — that is, understand fully how much you’re taking on financially (in terms of loans), and how much you can afford (in terms of paying it back via future job income etc.).

Most of my close friends are graduating with mind boggling amounts in student loan. My best friend of will be finishing her B.S. in Nursing at the cool tune of about $58,000 in student loans (and she was only at this school for 2.5 years). My other good friend will be finishing dentistry school with a student loan of about $160,000. My cousin just finished pharmacy school with a student loan of about $90,000.

What is the obvious thing in common among these people, besides the fact that they’re all more successful than me? They have job outlooks that will pay for their education. Their education debt, although expensive, is practical when you consider the income level they’ll generate (and as I type this, they have all become even better friends in my mind. teehee).

How will the scenarios play out if these friends of mine pursue a career in a field that may not pay as well? They will most likely be in financial hardship as they finish college or graduate school. I point these out not because I like to short change anyone’s academic pursuit. You don’t need to justify the cost of higher education with a high paying job; however, you do need to go into debt with your eyes wide open.

College is not cheap. The financial cost and debt (if any) that you’ll incur is no joke. It is still entirely affordable if you plan for it, but if you’re not careful with your choices, you may pay for it financially. Too many people choose certain institutions without considering the financial cost and a means to repay the cost. If you pursuit higher education and it’ll put you into debt, you will need to have a plan in getting out of that debt. This also applies towards those who are furthering their education to earn a better income — consider this, will getting that graduate degree really increase your earning potential?

Again, this isn’t about the decision you make concerning your educational pursuit. It’s okay if you want to study sociology at an expensive private university — you can never place a concrete return on investment towards the cost of higher education — just be fully aware of the potential income level you may earn, and the means & steps you can take to pay back your debt. If you head into debt without a clear idea of its consequences and tackle on more than you can handle, you may be jeporadizing your financial future.

Many of us have a large student loan hovering over our head. Some of us may still be paying them off, and these debt are most likely a constant source of stress. But let me ask you this question, if you have a large student loan, do you regert purusing higher education? You may regret incuring more debt than you can handle, but I believe most people will value their education and the experiences they have received as they pursue their degrees.

Higher education is entirely worthwhile. In a perfect world, everyone would be able to pursue the study of their choice without the worries of the financial cost. The reality though is that higher education is expensive and it will become even more expensive. The minute you realize the tremendous cost involved, the better you will be able to prepare and plan for the cost.

Related Resources: