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Millennial Minded

College-cost survey doesn't answer one big question for millennials: Why

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By the time the spring semester of my senior year rolled around in 2010, I had grown pretty cynical about my time at college. Eighteen months earlier, the stock market had hit record lows and my graduating class was facing an unemployment rate of 18.4 percent, more than twice the national average at the time.

I was months away from graduating and all I could hear was Matt Damon from Good Will Hunting saying, “you dropped 150 grand on a (expletive) education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.”

And while college costs have risen more than 500 percent since 1985 and students are leaving their four-year institutions with more debt than ever, Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz of the New York Federal Reserve are offering a different perspective.

Using statistics from sources including the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Education, they’ve found that while it used to take 25 years to recoup the expenses of a college education, it now only takes 10 years.

That fact still doesn’t answer the question of whether or not a college education has any value. Reading through their note, it doesn’t even consider if this drop in time has anything to do with higher loan payments.

But there’s still a fact I wish I’d thought of before I enrolled, and it’s only further compounded by this finding: Why not borrow some money and start your dream business before college?

Your early 20s are a time when you are most financially malleable, so isn’t that the perfect time to take a risk? If it doesn’t work, college will be waiting for you and that education might be even more valuable because you’ve probably learned a few things about yourself.

Now, that’s easy for me to say sitting here at my desk. But even in getting my job, nothing in my college education prepared me quite like deciding exactly what it was I wanted to do, setting my sights on it and spending all my free time working towards that while supporting myself however I could.

And I still had to bounce around for four years doing odd jobs, like substitute teaching or relying on trades like teaching music lessons or tutoring kids, before I figured things out.

While this study suggests that college still is a worthy investment that shouldn’t be written off, we should allow ourselves a certain amount of flexibility in our early adulthood. It’s not a race; have some fun with it.


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Andrew Sheldon

Andrew Sheldon

Andrew Sheldon covers technology and education. His email is andrews@njbiz.com.

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