The Real Costs of College

There was an expos?e on student loans published in the New York Times in May titled “A Genera-tion Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College.” Its authors presented the reasons that student loans are so debilitating, in addition to interviewing several loan-burdened students and graduates. The implication was that college graduates are not getting better or higher-paying jobs and that student loans are becoming increasingly burdensome in a lackluster economy. Colgate has exemplary finan-cial aid and a comparatively low amount of students graduate with student loans. However, this is not the norm for the rest of the country: according to the Times article, two-thirds of graduates in 2008 were matriculating with student loans, which were an average of $23,300 in 2011. I maintain the conviction that education is always the best option and that betterment truly does come through education. I also do not think there is any comparison to being on a college campus. Learning from a professor that is an expert in his or her subject is unparalleled, and the breadth of resources and services to which higher-education institutions have access can be found virtually nowhere else.

Regardless, student loans are sometimes more than a hundred thousand dollars and interest ac-cumulates every year. On top of that, even if personal bankruptcy was declared, student loans do not disappear. It is indeed possible that a graduate could be paying off their student loans well into retirement. This fact alone could dissuade a potential college student from attending in the first place – meaning the financials of the education system are essentially discouraging higher education. In addition, social norms regarding education are changing and subsequently making a college degree seem unnecessary in many situations. A college degree may not be the indicator of social stature, nor is it always necessary for social mobility. Individuals like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, neither of whom finished college, are seen as the modern American beacons of success. They have proven that a certain degree does not necessarily equate to wealth and happiness, and, that said, wealth and happiness are not dependent on a degree.

Another issue is the fact that education is truly what an individual makes of it, regardless of how much it may cost. Colgate is an agglomeration of some of the brightest students from all around the country and the world, yet the ignorance present on campus astounds me nearly every day. Educa-tion should not be about going through the motions: pick the major that seems interesting enough, enroll in the classes needed for this major, do the least amount of work possible to get an okay grade in these classes and spend all extra time partying. While I am a strong believer in the therapeutic qualities of a (mostly rum) rum-and-coke while dancing in a sweaty frat basement, it eludes me how little intellectual curiosity Colgate students have.

Colgate is the only college I know first hand, so I cannot make any informed statements regard-ing the atmosphere on other campuses. But, I doubt that there is a significant increase in student curiosity – on the contrary, a school any larger only means less access to professors, lectures and other resources, hampering the options for exploring said curiosity. For a student not particularly interested in fully engaging themselves in their education, resulting student loans would become a burden from which they would have only gained a diploma and liver problems. If college meant a well-paying and enjoyable job, there would be no doubt about its merit. But the fact is that it may not be the answer, especially not in today’s competitive job market. While most Colgate students will graduate with manageable financial obligations, we still have to contend with the fact that getting our dream job may be unlikely, as may be a salary of over $50,000. A degree may be a physical substantiation of education, but college is certainly not the only way (nor, for some, the best way) to become educated.

My point in writing this is not to disparage the education system, nor to imply that a college education is not worth it. I think it is important, however, for our generation to understand the social and financial climate in which we are living – one in which education does not always come easily nor is it necessarily conducive to success.

Contact Selina Koller at [email protected].