With an average tuition of $12,710 to attend a four-year university each semester and a student debt crisis reaching $1.6 trillion, some students ask if their degree paths are worth the time and money they put in to earn them.
“(What) concerns me is that I’ll just end up in a career path that I don’t really love,” said Michigan State University computer science freshman Henry Xu. “ ... We’ve all heard the saying ‘If you truly enjoy what you do, you’ll never have to work a single day in your life,’ and I eventually want to reach that point in my life.”
Psychology freshman Rebecca Gross said she believes college is worth the skills you learn outside of the classroom, such as study habits, but she can also miss out on other areas.
“You get to pick different classes within your field and you aren’t required to take all of them,” Gross said. “So I’m worried that once I choose what I want to do for my career, that I should’ve taken some other classes that are more focused on what I want to do, rather than other classes I took instead and still got the same credit.”
A study by Clever, a real estate company, found that graduates with bachelor degrees earn an average of $2.7 million more than people with just a high school degree.
However, graduate degrees such as masters and doctorates do not guarantee the same return on investment.
PRODUCED BY: SaMya Overall
“High school diplomas have been devalued in our society to the point that the difference between a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree is a huge jump,” assistant professor for the Center for Integrative Studies in Social Science Brandy Ellison said. “A bachelor’s degree has become the entry point to a number of jobs, so it pays off in that you are making a rather large jump in the types of jobs that will be available to you.”
“The longer that you are in the workforce – which you would be with a bachelor’s degree compared to a master’s or a doctorate – the more money you can make over the lifetime of your working years, which is how we calculated lifetime earnings,” Ortegren said.
MSU implemented flat rate tuition in fall 2019, which made tuition cost between $7,230 to $8,595 for 12 to 18 credits per semester. The rate is less that the national average, but MSU's previous per-credit hour system had a lower rate for 12 credit hours.
The increased tuition makes the question of whether college is worth the investment more meaningful to some students than others.
The study ranks majors and their perceived value through three categories: return on investment, opportunity growth and job meaningfulness.
According to the study, both a return on investment and opportunity growth sustain financial well-being, but people who find meaning in their jobs tend to be more satisfied and engaged.
STEM majors tend to have a higher return on investment and opportunity growth than humanities or social science majors, such as psychology.
Computer science majors are expected to make a 154% return on investment with a 14% job growth, and though psychology majors are expected to make a 220% return on investment, their projected opportunity growth is only 6%.
What psychology majors lack in opportunity growth, they make up for in job meaningfulness; 57% of psychology graduates say they find their jobs meaningful while only 42% of computer science graduates agree.
Ellison said students should weigh their pros and cons when deciding a major based on return on investment, opportunity growth or job meaningfulness.
“So, weighing the tradeoffs: Are you willing to go to a job that you hate every day if it means a huge return on investment or nearly immediate return on investment?" Ellison said. "If you’re going to just kind of dislike your job and get that return on investment, maybe it’s worth it. But, if you are going to totally hate it and fully dread going every day, it’s not going to be worth it.”