CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - It's graduation season and the class of 2018 will enter the work force will an average of $40,000 in student loan debt. The cost of a four year degree is increasing to the point that it's deterring some from even attempting a four year degree.
Private colleges are now averaging more than $34,000 a year for tuition and fees. So is college worth it?
We went to the experts to help your family make the right decision.
"I remember being at my grandpas house, riding my bike and my mom making a comment about college being 20 thousand dollars a year and I was like what? That's so much money," said recent high school graduate, Alex McCullough.
She's been thinking about college since she was 8.
So she spent much of the last year exploring her options and visiting 14 schools, most of them private.
"The dollar signs were definitely scary," said her mom, Jacquie.
Since Alex wants to be an engineer, not going to college was not an option. But other students are now considering the cost versus benefit of a degree.
"When I hear of young peole who have student loan debt of $70,000, $80,000, $90,000, they don't have a student loan anymore, they have a mortgage," said Jeff Forman.
He's a College Access adviser with The Lake/Geauga Educational Assistance Foundation. He says families need to start early- in middle school- with discussions about careers. So by high school they can begin to plot for the education necessary.
In making the choice whether college is worth the cost, Forman says they need to take a hard look at what they'll owe versus what they're earn.
"What we say to parents and to students is you don't want your student loan debt to be more than what your first year salary is going to be," Foreman said.
"I wish somebody would have told me that when I graduated," said Macuga.
Websites like Ohio Means Jobs and the Ohio Career Information System are great tools to help you determine which jobs are in demand, and if they'll pay you enough to pay off your student loans. For instance, an art therapist working in Cleveland can earn $42,000 first year.
Forman says choosing the right major and sticking with it, is as important as choosing the right school.
"The more you change your major the longer its going take for you to get that degree and the longer it takes, the more money it's going to cost," he said.
He says its certainly not worth it to start...and not finish.
"You've stopped going to college and you've taken out loans. That's your loan, the loan does not go away," Forman said.
Forman says career prep programs for things like machine trades, electricity, welding and graphic design do have a good return on investment and a lower price point.
"Who is "college material is a very individual decision,"' said Elyse Rosenblum with "Grads of Life."
She says there are in-demand careers, in Ohio, that wouldn't require you to be saddled with a mountain of college debt.
"The more robust sectors for people to take a look at are manufacturing, professional services and construction. And in those fields people can earn in the mid fifties without a college degree," she said.
If you're interested in health care, but worry about affording a degree, she says college isn't the only pathway to a better W2.
"There are employers within the Cleveland healthcare community that are really committed to bringing people in who don't have a four year degree, giving them a start and then investing in their ongoing training and advancement so they can stay and grow," she said.
So is college worth it?
To answer that question the experts say you first have to ask:
- What kind of job do you want?
- Is that job in demand?
- How much can you make?
- Does it require a four year degree?
- How much will that cost?
Alex has made her choice. She'll be a freshman at Ohio State next year, where she plans to graduate with a degree in biomedical engineering. And student loan debt of about $40,000.
"I think the decision was made even before she knew she really knew she was going to go there. And it was all because of tuition and debt," said Macuga.
According to Ohio State, Americans are currently getting a 12-14 percent return on their investment in their college education.
OSU says students can maximize the economic value of a college education by:
- Attending the most selective institution to which you're admitted
- Majoring in a well-defined field that centers on scientific skills
- Getting a job in area of your major