How to Ignore the Noise and Make the College Choices Right for You

Control what you can control and forget about the rest of the noise in the higher education debate. Is college too expensive?  Yes. Is college worth it? Yes, if you chose wisely. Can you wind up with $150,000 of debt and no job. Yes, if you chose poorly. Here we explore what you can control to get a better outcome for you while the pundits argue about policy and politics.

Buzz TodayThe Tuition is Too Damn High: Source: The Washington Post. “The Tuition is Too Damn High” is a 10 part series that ran in Wonkblog over two weeks exploring the causes and consequences of – and potential fixes for the skyrocketing costs of higher education. In spite of this general conclusion, the series concludes: “Why College is Still Worth It.” So does college raise incomes? Is it investment good enough to make widely accessible? Yes, it is. Period. Even the widely read Megan McArdle quotes James Heckman, the Nobel Prize – winning economist in Newsweek that “Even with these high prices, you’re finding a high return for individuals who are bright and motivated. If your not college ready, then the answer is no, it’s not worth it.”

The advice the experts quoted in Buzz Today here is wise advice consistent with what I am recommending to you. For you to avoid crushing student debt and end up unemployed you have to make good choices before you go back to school. It is only through these wise choices that you can earn a return on your education investment.

It seems like sound advice. The trick is “how do you do that?” Unfortunately the intense debate among the policy makers and the politicians (Is government aid actually making college more expensive?)  about the issues is of little help for the very personal choices you need to make today.

As Heckman, the Nobel Prize economist implies, you have to begin with yourself. In Your Future is Calling, I give you specific tools to do just that. For now, here are a few tips to take away from this post.

1. Make sure you have the motivation you need to do the work. Simply getting a piece of paper (a degree) is a fool’s goal. In the end, what you can do with you talent and skills from your education will determine your success. After the first interview for a job, nobody cares about the piece of paper (degree) hanging on your home office wall.

2. Do your homework. This means that you must know “who you are”. Once you know the important things about what you are good at and what motivates you (see Buzz Today), you need hard data on jobs and employment opportunities. Here I direct you to objective government data about jobs and income in the US economy. The site O*NET provides the data. Your Future is Calling shows you how to use this important data base to your personal advantage.

Start today. The choices are yours.

How to Make Sure College is Worth It and Save Money Too

Make money after college and save money while in college.  Possible?  Yes, if you do the right things at the beginning.  If you do what college students have traditionally done you can wind up with huge debt and low income.  Many have and millions more will without a change in the path to a degree.   Here’s what you need to know.     Source:  The New York Times.   At a time when the value of a college degree is being called into question, and when job prospects for many new graduates are grimmer than they’ve been in years, perhaps it’s no surprise to see a not-back-to-school movement spring up.  The push, which is luring a handful of select students away from the likes of Princeton, Harvard and M.I.T., is the brainchild of Peter A. Thiel, silicon valley billionaire.  A  college education remains essential for people from less privileged backgrounds says Carmen Wong Ulrich, co-founder of a three woman investment firm in New York City. “Many African-Americans and Asians can’t afford to ask the question, “Is college worth it?”  We’re not all starting from the same starting line. “Many of us are the first in our family to even attend college”, says Ms Ulrich.

I assume that you are not one of the select few destined for Princeton or Harvard and that you are, like me, first in your family to attend college.  The challenge for us is to make sure college is worth it.  We cannot afford to do otherwise.  Unfortunately, just going to college is not a guarantee that the degree at the end of the process will be worth it.

Two key factors determine the financial part of the ‘Worth it’ answer.  These are, what you can earn after you earn a degree and how much you pay to earn that degree in the first place.  Let’s begin with the last issue first – how much you pay or the inverse, how much money you can save.  By far, the biggest factor that impacts how much you pay is the college or university you attend.  Sounds simple.  It is if you have the right information.

To begin with, the average net tuition being paid at many colleges and universities is at an average almost 50% off of the listed tuition cost.  That means that you can save almost half of the cost by wisely selecting the college you attend.  Details are available in Your Future is Calling.

There are excellent independent data sources about income earned with various degrees.  We will look at one case study here.  As part of a larger study I was asked to look at the financial potential for a graduate of a two year college program in any one of six careers.

Preschool teacher,Paralegal, Diagnostic Medical Sonographer, Registered Nurse, Dental Hygienist, Occupational Therapy Assistant.

The data sources used for this analysis were O*NET, COLLEGENavigator, and SalarySurfer.  Looking at the income two years before and two years after graduation for California Community College graduates in these six careers show a rate of financial return of over 1,500% for the weighted career average. I know of no other investment that even comes close to this financial return.  The bottom line is that it is possible to make sure college is worth it.  See Your Future is Calling for more details.