Investing in a college degree

In today’s economy, is spending money to obtain a college degree worthwhile? And if so, are there caveats to that generalization? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden answers, pointing out factors prospective college students should consider as they decide whether college will work for them.

“Several factors. … First would be what degree they’re expecting to get. Research shows that payoff to getting a college degree varies widely by what degree you get — what profession you’re going to go into. So certainly check information on that.

“Secondly a major question is, Is the student going to finish? Unfortunately, a very high percentage of college freshmen don’t finish. And if they don’t finish and get a degree, research shows there’s little payoff to them from having spent that limited time in college.

“Thirdly, what school are you going to go to? Now not only does this have an impact on what degree and major options there are, but (it) also has a big impact on your costs. Obviously, public-supported colleges and universities tend to be lower cost than private schools. So certainly look into that and do your number crunching based on comparing different kinds of schools and their cost.

“And, last, performance. I mean ultimately what an individual who gets a college degree, what their pay is going to be based on — not necessarily the fact they have a college degree, but how do they perform at their job? And in part that performance is going to be based on how … they (performed) as a student. Did they acquire good study habits? Did they acquire good learning habits that then could be transferred to that job?

“So, you can look at college as a training ground not for just getting information but for developing good work habits that … employers will value.”

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