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How much is your degree worth?

By D'Ann Dickson
On March 7, 2013

  • Panther Dolls Perform at halftime of the Rockets/Spurs game. Adrienne Wincher

Employment studiess have eased the minds of college students and recent graduates fearing their investment may not yield a great return.
The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association reported that average tuition and fees costs paid by students after state and institutional aid rose by 8.3 percent last year. As tuition rises incrementally per year and the unemployment rates of college graduates fluctuate based on the economy, the benefits of a college degree can be obscure.
Besides the social experience, most hopeful students pursue a college degree to build a career. Unfortunately, some graduate in a longer amount of time than others, accumulating more debt and failing to find a career. Other students build the most promising college career and still end up paying more into their education than they earn after graduation.
At Prairie View A&M University, a four year degree for a Texas resident will cost about $80,000 inclusive and a non-Texas resident's degree will cost $120,000. Most students' total loans owed in Texas average to about $22,000, according to the Institute for College Access and Success, and the university website reported the average loan per student for a year is between $3,000 and $4,000.
According to, the average starting salary for a PVAMU graduate is $49,300 which is favorable, but this is just an average not reflecting job loss and job separation.
A graduate with $20,000 in loans should be able to pay them off in 10 years if that student pays $230 per month at a 6.8 percent interest rate. The contingent factor in this situation is a job with a minimum salary of $35,000 per year. For some students, that type of income will not come easy.
Junior sociology major Blair Lewis-Thomas said, "I've paid for my college career with loans and help from my grandparents and mom. So far I've accumulated more than $20,000 in loans and paid more than $10,000 out of pocket. I don't want to go into sociology when I graduate, I'd rather go into art or graphic design. My brother graduated from Prairie View with a bachelor's in human performance and a master's degree in business administration and did not have to pay much back but he's still searching for a career."
Holding a college degree does not make the employment search fail-safe, but it is much better to be jobless with a degree than jobless without one. A recent study performed by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce reported college graduates earn almost twice as much as high school graduates and two million employment openings were added for degree-holders during the economic recovery.
Many have complained that the unemployment rate for recent bachelor's degree-holders is 8.9 percent, but according to Georgetown researchers the unemployment rate for recent high school graduates is nearly three times greater.
"I believe that the loans and money spent on my college career are all worth it because I've put in the work to ensure my success. If you don't have a passion for your career path and you don't want to be diligent then it's not worth it because you're just wasting your time," said Mahalia Smith, a senior health major.
Most college graduates who are currently unemployed either chose the wrong career path for them, a not-so-promising major or did not put the effort into their success. Georgetown's study showed the highest paying bachelor's degree majors are engineering, computer and mathematics, health (non-doctors) and business. The lowest paying thus creating a low return on investment reported were education, psychology and fine arts majors.
Georgetown's study also reported that based on 2009 earnings, high school graduates will earn about $1 million less than an employee who has earned a bachelor's degree over a lifetime and even those who hold only an associate's degree will earn a little over half a million dollars less than a four year college graduate. The numbers and job security are even more favorable for an individual holding a post graduate or doctorate degree.
Over time, a college education will prove to be a profitable investment once loan debt decreases and salaries increase. It may seem dim initially, but eventually the standard for education will work in favor of college graduates.

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