Sticker Shock

A 4-year college isn’t necessarily worth the price tag


Is the cost of college really worth the financial debt that comes with it? The short answer is no. 

For starters, the average price for a year of college in the U.S. is around $27,000 (in-state and community) and $55,000 (private colleges). Even with financial help, the price can still be intimidating–especially since Americans collectively owe $1.75 trillion in student loans.

Take one popular college choice for Patriots–University of Missouri-Columbia. According to their website, next year’s tuition will cost $24,540. If you have to borrow that money, by the time you graduate you could have $98,160 in student loan debt. How long do you think that will take you to pay off? You could be in your 40s by the time you’re debt free.

Every year students struggle with how they can truly take advantage of all the ways to make college as inexpensive as they can because of the educational expenses they will encounter during and after college.

These advantages include scholarships, the FAFSA, and AP exams (college credit) but these ways of getting them can be very complex. For example, the process to get merit scholarships might be easy but in reality, only one in eight students actually obtain one.

One option South students have to help with the cost of college is the A+ Program. This is a type of scholarship offered in Missouri to provide funds to particular high school students who plan on attending a community college. 

And what about the military? People who agree to serve their country can receive a free college education.

On the other hand, having a college degree does allow people to potentially earn more than someone who just has a high school diploma and a good majority of jobs on the market require a bare minimum of a bachelor’s degree. For example, the average starting salary for a college graduate is $50,000 whereas the starting salary for someone like a mechanic is $40,000 which isn’t bad by any means but it’s still $10,000 less a year. 

Then there is another option, trade school, which is significantly less financially ($12,000 avg) but is also not pushed enough by high schools and society; causing a significant shortage of employees in fields like electricians, plumbers, and mechanics. There’s such a shortage of mechanics in the U.S. that companies like BMW are paying high school graduates to train them to become mechanics. If we continue at this pace of promoting 4-year college over trade schools, who will fix our plumbing in the future? Who will fix our Teslas when they brake down or paint our houses? Sure, these jobs may not be as glamorous as a college degree, but they’re still needed. 

Learning a trade is one of the fastest, most reliable, and cheapest ways of finding a steady career, and through some time and a bit of hard work someone can work their way up into a management position. For example, a general manager of an HVAC company will make on average $125,000 a year. 

But for those not actively seeking a job in trade, the decision is even harder. Furthermore, 75% of high-paying jobs require a college degree, which makes the decision to go to college seem like that is the only answer, showing how the workforce and society are ultimately built to benefit those who have a college education but the cost to obtain that education causes people to settle for less. This leads high school students to be faced with the hard decision of if they should go to college or not.

In addition to the high debt rates, there is no guarantee that students will graduate in four years–it could take even longer which will ultimately add to the list of costs. 

All these factors make it nearly impossible to say which way is better for students especially if society makes it seem like not going to college sets you up for failure but the way I see it is that it’s a lose-lose situation either way. Meaning how does one choose between being seen as less for not going to college or going to college and drowning in the amount of money owed?

So, to all my fellow juniors out there reading this–don’t just assume you have to borrow thousands of dollars and attend a 4-year-college to be successful. There are other options out there!!!