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College degrees help secure jobs, add to financial burdens

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The unemployment rate for students graduating with a bachelor’s degree remains low and the certification comes with a better paycheck, however student debt continues to anchor those graduates down. Some Ohio State students and administrators, though, think a college education is worth it despite unanswered questions about affordability and access.

According to the Institute of Education Sciences, young adults with higher education corresponded with higher average earnings in 2011 data. About 70 percent of the class of 2013, however, graduated with debt, according to a study done by Fidelity Investments.

At OSU’s Columbus campus, about 58 percent of 2011 graduates had student debt, according to the most recent data from the Institute for College Access and Success, a nonprofit independent research organization.

 

Higher pay and lower unemployment

While the majority of students are graduating with debt, that they attended college at all often helps them find a job.

In 2012, 8.3 percent of individuals with only a high school diploma were unemployed, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics employment projections.

Those with a bachelor’s degree, though, faced a 4.5 percent unemployment rate.

Some OSU students said they think the reduced unemployment rate makes college worth it.

Olivia Whitman, a second-year in computer science and engineering, said the nearly 4 percent difference in unemployment between having a high school degree and having an undergraduate degree can effect a lot of people, regardless of debt.

“Taking on a large amount of debt may stop people (from going to college),” Whitman said.

The long-term benefits were something that Spencer Carli, a second-year in computer science and engineering, said he took into consideration.

“In the long-term, (debt can) pay itself off,” Carli said. “Assuming you can get a job and the job can aid you and it falls in line with what you’re interested in.”

In September, the national unemployment rate of workers over the age of 16 was 7.2 percent, the lowest unemployment rate since late 2008, according to the BLS unemployment rate.

College graduates are not only more likely to be able to find jobs, but also more likely to find higher-paying ones.

The study by the Institute of Education Sciences found that young adults, ages 25 to 34, with a high school diploma who were employed full time earned a median annual income of $29,950, while those with a bachelor’s degree or higher earned a median pay of $50,000.

Carli said, though, even with just a high school diploma he was able to get a job working with a skill-based web design company while he attends OSU.

“(I came to college) just to further my understanding of the complex side, to dive deeper,” Carli said. “If the general interest doesn’t require a college degree, (the degree is) not important.”

 

Student debt

Though education correlates with a higher salary, paying for that education can bind students with debt that will take a toll on their future bank accounts.

For those college student who graduate with debt, the average debt is $35,200, including federal, state and private loans, in addition to money borrowed from family members and added up from credit cards, according to the Fidelity study.

Comparatively, the average student debt of Ohio State main campus graduates was about $24,840 in 2011, according to the study by the Institute for College Access and Success.

Whitman said taking on college debt is worth it if a student’s major is something he or she is interested in.

“I came to college to gain knowledge that I wouldn’t have been able to get without going to college,” Whitman said. “It’s worth it.”

OSU’s tuition for the 2013-14 school year was $10,010 for in-state students per semester and $25,726 for non-Ohio residents, according to the OSU Undergraduate Admissions website. Those costs are higher than the national average for public universities, which is $8,893 and $22,203, respectively, according to College Board.

 

Looking forward

Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced Oct. 21 OSU President Emeritus E. Gordon Gee is set to play a large role in a state higher education initiative focused on affordability.

“I’m going to take on a major initiative of the state, talking about what I think is the burning issue of today, and that is how does one increase quality of higher education and how does one do it in a way that its cost effective and affordable for students,” Gee said in an interview with The Lantern Oct. 21. “We know how to increase quality, we know how to cut budgets, but we don’t know how to bring the concept of cost and quality together, so that’s what we’re really trying to do with this.”

OSU Interim President Joseph Alutto said there are also university initiatives being taken to keep OSU’s costs down.

“Any institution as large as Ohio State has areas where it can do a better job of restraining and controlling cost issues. It’s just simply the normal process of life and development of any organization. And universities are organizations,” Alutto said during an interview with The Lantern Sept. 23. “I’m sure that — I know that — there (are) areas where we could do things better and more efficiently, which means we take some of the pressure off the affordability question.”

Provost and Executive Vice President Joseph Steinmetz said it’s important to make sure OSU is accessible to students from a variety of backgrounds.

“We have to control tuition and make it affordable so that this university doesn’t just become set up for those that are wealthier or well-to-do, that this is accessible for all excellent students,” he said during an interview with The Lantern Oct. 8. “We have to come up with, I think, novel ways to fund student education, that isn’t on the backs of tuition.”

Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Stepp said he’s passionate about affordability and reducing debt so students aren’t burdened after graduation.

Stepp said USG is working on a commission to present to the university focused on issues including helping students plan for unexpected costs, educating students on financial decision-making and working on making college affordable.

“We want to make sure we make college as affordable as possible,” Stepp said. “(We want to) limit the amount of student loans being taken out.”

Stepp said the number of students graduating with debt is a problem.

“This is an unsustainable path,” Stepp said. “We’ve gotta have some real legitimate reform … this market is not working. There needs to be some factors that are adjusted, it’s not a good way to start on your career with thousands of dollars of debt.”

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