The True Cost of College

Sometimes college doesn’t pay. At least it doesn’t pay very well. While the Community College Times glowingly reported yesterday that “completing an associate’s degree was worth $41,962 more than the cost of tuition, fees and forgone wages while in college,” it appears that for many people, even with a bachelor’s degree, finding a job is trouble.

According to an article in the Kansas City Star, the financial side of higher education looks very bad now that the economy is in trouble:

Right now, Patricia Summers is upside-down on her college degree.

She owes $18,000 on loans taken to get her degree in advertising from the University of Missouri. Her college time will end up costing more than $50,000, not counting what she could have earned from a full-time job had she not gone to college.

Which is exactly what Summers is doing now: serving burgers at a Sonic drive-in.

Summers, granted, lives in Columbia, Missouri, which is not exactly a financial Mecca. But even nationally, jobs and the salaries associated with them are difficult to procure. Less than 20 percent of students in the class of 2009 had jobs when they graduated.

But almost 70 percent of students have incurred debt to pay for college. This means that a lot of college graduates are taking low-skill jobs, jobs that in many cases pay what than what students owe in financial aid.

The recession won’t last forever, of course, but several studies have established that graduating during a recession affects one’s salary for a full decade. Matt Yglesias posted some truly depressing information a year ago about how that works.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer