The single most difficult financial decision a teenager will make is whether to go to college or not.
The average cost for four years at a private college is $105,092; the cost to commute at a four-year public college is $28,080, according to College Board, an association of 5,700 colleges and universities.
The average young adult graduates with $19,000 in student loan debt and thousands in credit card debt, according to a 2008 Press report entitled Young, Educated and Broke. At the current fixed interest rate of 6.8 percent, a borrower would pay about $219 a month for 10 years.
Here’s two horror stories to consider before you, or your child, take the plunge into such debt.
Ryan, 31, a married father of two, owes $70,000 in student loans and collection fees. Because of bad luck, naivety, and a poor credit rating, he has a car payment of $450 a month at 15 percent interest. His creditors garnished his wages before he was laid off in January. Unless Ryan’s situation dramatically improves, he’ll eventually have his Social Security garnished.
Zoe and her husband owe $46,000 in student loans. They too have two young children. Zoe recently went back to school. It was the only option to delay default.
Both grew up in single-parent homes. Both went away to college. Neither wanted life to work out this way, nor are they unique. The debt they carry affects their ability to buy a home, a car, and provide material goods for their families. They will be a drain on the economy for years to come.
There are thousands of student-loan borrowers like Ryan and Zoe in Northwest Ohio alone. The promise that a bachelor degree means $1 million more in lifetime earnings than someone with just a high school diploma lured some. Parents, peers or society pressured others. Now, they struggle to pay debt incurred when they were too young or too immature to make such a decision. Consider that of the 3.3 million student loan borrowers whose first payments were due between October 1, 2006 and September 30, 2007, more than 225,300, or 6.7 percent, went into default, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
These statistics and examples should be a cautionary note, not a deterrent, to those considering a four-year college. The majority who graduate from four-year colleges pay back student loans and find financially rewarding careers. One local man, for example, wrote a $10,000 check to pay off his debt within six years of graduation.
According to a 2003 wage study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with a bachelor degree had median weekly earnings of $900. Those with just a high school diploma earned $554 a week, a 62 percent difference. There are other advantages of a college degree other than higher income. College graduates are more likely to have health insurance, broader job opportunities and more flexibility in economic downturns.
That said, there are opportunities for those who prefer to enter the job market quicker and keep student loan debt to a minimum. According to Manpower’s 2009 Talent Shortage Survey, eight of the top ten jobs experiencing a shortage of workers today require less than a bachelor degree. These jobs pay well and have benefits. A Registered Nurse, for example, averages $56,800 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A semi-driver averages $35,460.
In another study, this one by the Bureau of Labor Statistics entitled Employment Projections: 2006-16, the authors state, “For 19 of the 30 occupations with the largest job growth, short-or moderate-term, on-the-job training are the most significant sources of postsecondary education or training.”
The point that reporters from The Press make in this special section—No Bachelor’s, No problem—is that there are alternatives to a four-year college education that can lead to financially-rewarding careers without incurring stifling debt. Some pay more then those that require a bachelor degree, some pay less. Almost all, however, do take some post-secondary education or specialized training.
The intent is not to dissuade you, or your child, from attending a four-year college but rather to show you the many opportunities available for careers that require less investment of time and money. In the 10 stories that follow, you will learn a little about those opportunities while meeting a few people who have been successful following their bliss.
We hope you find some value and insight in this special report: No Bachelor’s? No Problem.