In the Great Recession the go to answer for landing a job for the first time or embarking on a new career has been education. Getting a bachelors or masters degree is supposed to be the cure for the unemployment hangover the general public is suffering from. Basically as it is represented:
College Degree = Career
The problem is that this equation is incorrect as it is often touted. The Equation is:
College Degree + Money = More Career Opportunities
As is clear (link to data of unemployment correlation with degrees) having a college degree doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will have a career. Having a degree means that you have the ability to apply for more positions than you were able to apply for without a college degree.
The most important part of the equation is money. If college was free I think more people would have degrees. College is expensive and is considered an investment into ones own future. With the ever rising cost of college its time to shop around. If college is looked at as merely an investment then you want to ensure that you get the best Return On Investment (ROI).
College often glamorized in television and movies is about getting an education and less about the atmosphere. People typically base their perception of the school on non-curricular stuff like football. The bigger the school, the “cooler” the school is has little effect on your ROI. Public universities are seemingly always facing budget cuts, as the government tries to tighten its belt, due to dwindling funds. Facing a 15-30% yearly budget cut it is fair to assume that colleges will make up the difference through increased tuition, fees, and housing.
Not only is a university expensive but their is little evidence to support the greatest ROI will come from a degree earned completely at a four year university. Baring this in mind to achieve the greatest ROI you should explore other options than a straight four year degree.
Example Average Credit Hour Costs (2010)
University of Michigan
Cost per credit hour (in-state): $456
Cost per credit hour (out of state): $1453
Michigan State University
Cost per credit hour (in-state): $372
Cost per credit hour (out of state): $970
Wayne State University
Cost per credit hour (in-state): $286
Cost per credit hour (out of state): $672
As you can see above if you look around major universities are not all created equal as far as costs are concerned. Another excellent choice to maximize your ROI is to consider going to a community college for your first two years. If you attend a community college then transfer to a university you are paying signigicantly less for half of your degree. You can at that point transfer and graduate from whichever college you feel warrents the cost to have its name grace your degree.
Schoolcraft Community College
Cost per credit hour (in-state): $80
Cost per credit hour (out of state): $118
Henry Ford Community College
Cost per credit hour (in-state): $70
Cost per credit hour (out of state): $135
In the above examples even community colleges can be shopped for the greatest ROI. A $10 difference may not seem like much but at a per credit cost and the average four year degree consisting of 130 credit hours. Your first two years are 65 credits x $10 = $650.
Students in Michigan can go to two year community colleges if they are still unsure of their education. The State of Michigan has setup the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars & Admissions Officers website.
One of the best kept secrets of the community college world is that the majority of these teachers are adjunct professors. If you look into the teacher at the time of signing up for you classes or ask around campus you will find that many of the adjunct professors actually teach at big state run universities.
Many of these professors give their university email addresses on their syllabus. In some cases the professors had made a living as whatever they were teaching about such as an accountant. In contrast many professors at major universities have only been able to put their knowledge and talents towards academia, which typically is not as helpful as real world experience.
The bottom line is your college degree doesn’t guarantee anything besides greater marketability. The ability to apply for more positions, hopefully in something that you studied, and land a career. Your ROI is greatly impacted by the up front costs of going to college really no matter what kind of career you get upon graduation.