Cost of College Vs. Earnings

This is just a quick rant.

Back in 1998, I applied for a job at a men’s clothing franchise. I needed to get a job and I simply walked into the store to apply. I was a bit surprised that having a college degree – didn’t matter in what subject – was a requirement for consideration. What did my degree in History have to do with selling suits, I wondered. When I asked the question to the prospective employer, I was told that it was an indication of commitment. If I could demonstrate a commitment to a degree, I was showing commitment and accountability to other things in my life.  Funny because I would have thought that the 12 years of school I endured prior to college would have been a good enough sign of commitment, but apparently I needed to spend over $100,000 for a piece of paper in order to get a $12/hr job.


I’m not knocking college and advanced degrees. I don’t regret going to college myself. College took me away from my small New England town and exposed me to the world at large and people from all different walks of life. What I do knock is the cost of higher education without any sort of preparation for what that expense means in your daily life.

In the United States, the average in-state college tuition is $9,970. For out-of-state residents, this jumps to $25,620. Private school average tuition is $34,740.* A study of incomes for 2016 graduates showed the average salary to be $50,566.* Now, I don’t know what train I missed when I graduated but I didn’t hit $50k/year until nearly 20 years after graduation. Granted, I’m in the arts and the arts are not exactly a high-paying industry, but listen to this. The cost of living for single person in NYC excluding rent is $13,200.* Add the average rent in NYC of $3634* and you’re at $56,808 in living expenses. Now, again I’m no math major but that sure doesn’t seem to add up to me.

Now, I did say that the arts doesn’t typically pay much compared to some of the customarily higher paying industries out there but a stagehand – for example ‘cuz I am one – doesn’t need a higher education degree in order to work. Yes, we’re a very talented and educated group of people and the types of work we do require special skills, but stagecraft is also a trade that can be learned on the job. No need to have a $200,000 debt costing you over $1000 a month in payments for the next 30 years. Funny enough, The New York Times reported that 4 of the top earning stagehands in 2011 working for the Metropolitan Opera, each made over $500,000/year.*  Now I KNOW that I missed the train on that one. Likely those folks have been in the industry for years but I just about guarantee that everything they need to know to do their job, they’ve learned on the job without the need for a piece of paper they’re qualified.

My point here is that spending 6 figures on a college education does not guarantee that you’re going to be making a 6 figure income.  Parents need to understand the financial burden that a college education is going to put on their children. They need to educate themselves AND their kids when it comes to making the next step after high school.  While I appreciate the coming-of-age experience that college gave me, I wish that I had been given the financial tools to properly prepare me for dealing with life after college.

If you have some thoughts of your own or would like to share your experience with the cost of college versus your own earnings, feel free to jump in.

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