Is college worth it? September 2012

Dear Friends and Alumni,

President Bruce Benson
President Bruce Benson

As students stream back to our campuses for fall semester, they do so accompanied by a question that is increasing in volume across the country: Is a college education still worth it?

Those questioning the value of college point out the increasing costs, the student debt loads, whether skills are marketable and preparation is practical. Many advocate an increasing focus on trade schools or community colleges, or no college at all.

The questions are fair, but to me the answer is clear. A college education by any measure is perhaps the best investment a person will make for reasons both tangible and intangible.

Increasing costs lead many to look at paying for college much the same way as they view buying a car. There's a high sticker price that is usually discounted, but it still requires years of payment. Meanwhile, the car steadily depreciates. I would suggest a better analogy is a mortgage. People invest in a house that provides them a comfortable place to live over their lives while also serving as a substantial investment, one that appreciates over the long haul. A college education is the same. It is certainly a cost, but more so, it is an investment that pays dividends during a lifetime, even considering debt.

The average debt load upon graduation at CU-Boulder is $23,125 and UCCS is $22,703, below the national average of $25,250 and the Colorado average of $23,622. CU Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus combine student debt averages, which at $26,170 is slightly higher due to higher tuition of students studying for careers in medicine. Default rates across CU are 3.4 percent, well below the Colorado average of 11.5 percent and the national average of 8.8 percent.

Consider the workforce graduates are entering. Critics argue that recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed in great numbers. While true, nearly everyone is affected by the recession, college graduates included. Yet even those who recently earned degrees have fared better during the recession (and certainly did before) than those without a degree.

A recent study by Georgetown University (The College Advantage: Weathering the Economic Storm) shows that a large majority of jobs lost during the recession were those held by workers with a high school diploma or less. While unemployment for all four-year college graduates is 4.5 percent, it is 6.8 percent for recent graduates (those 21-25 years old). At the same time, unemployment for recent high school graduates is nearly 24 percent. Regarding underemployment, the study shows one in seven college graduates was underemployed in May 2012. Nearly half of high school graduates were. Nearly four of every five jobs lost during the recession were held by those with a high school diploma or less.

Various statistics, including those from the U.S. Census Bureau, have shown throughout the years that four-year college graduates earn more than a million dollars more over their lifetimes than those with a high school diploma or less. Critics would say those earnings are skewed by certain high-earning fields such as engineering or business. While we certainly need to ensure our graduates are prepared for productive careers, you cannot underestimate the value of critical thinking, a broad outlook and communication skills in any endeavor. Universities provide those.

Additionally, statistics don't convey the intangibles of a college education. College graduates have more opportunities during their lifetimes, engage in civic and community life at greater rates, and are generally healthier.

While society certainly needs tradespeople, our country's recovery from the recession and future prosperity will rely on the highly skilled workforce prepared at places such as CU.

For more than a century, higher education has been the engine that has fueled American prosperity. It remains critical to the economy, health and culture of our state and nation. So for those joining us as freshmen this fall, or those graduating and entering the workforce later this year, a college education will prove to be a worthy investment.

For feedback, contact

Bruce D. Benson
Bruce Benson

Join Now: CU Advocates

Memorial lease approval a boon for Colorado Springs, School of Medicine students
Memorial lease approval a boon for Colorado Springs, SOM students
Colorado Springs voters last week agreed by an impressive margin to lease the Memorial Health System to University of Colorado Health, a decision that brings approximately $1.8 billion to the city over time.

Read More

Enrollment remains healthy
Enrollment remains healthy
With fall classes under way, we have an early look at enrollment numbers across our campuses. Overall, the total number of students is strong and steady throughout the system, according to preliminary figures, which will be updated later in the fall.

Read More

CU in space: NASA funding nears $72 million
CU in space: NASA funding nears $72 million
I I could not be more proud of the work the University of Colorado has done with NASA throughout the decades. CU is the only research institution in the world that has designed and built NASA space instruments that have traveled to every planet in the solar system.

Read More

CU Denver Business School provides critical link to Denver community
CU Denver Business School provides critical link to Denver community
It was a pleasure to join Gov. John Hickenlooper and university officials to take part in the grand opening of the CU Denver Business School on Aug. 23. The new building, on the corner of 15th and Lawrence streets, further links CU Denver to the city and the state and provides a face of entrepreneurship and innovative programs.

Read More

Creating Futures:
Donors quick to support diverse students in School of Medicine
Donors quick to support diverse students in School of Medicine
Like many medical schools, the SOM faces challenges recruiting and retaining a student body that mirrors the diversity of the broader population. With the average U.S. medical school graduate accruing more than $150,000 in debt, less-affluent students might find medical school to be beyond their reach.

Read More

Spotlight on Alumni
Ralphie on skis: McLean's art races down slopes - benefits CU
Ralphie on skis: McLean's art races down slopes - and benefits CU
Throughout the decades, we've been impressed and amazed by the generosity and creativity of alumni who support CU. But who'd have thought that one day we'd see Ralphie swooshing through the fresh powder, around moguls and down the rugged ski slopes of Colorado?

Read More

News from our campuses
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has selected CU-Boulder to continue a federal/academic partnership to study climate change, improve weather models and better predict how solar storms can disrupt communication and navigation technologies.
Read More
The Institute of International Education in New York, N.Y., recently selected the University of Colorado Colorado Springs to participate in a program designed to increase higher education ties between U.S. and Indian colleges and universities.
Read More
CU Denver
Jack Hanna stopped by the Auraria Campus and brought along some furry (and not so furry) friends. More than a dozen wild animals took center stage in the Tivoli Turnhalle to help raise awareness about the critters.
Read More
CU Anschutz Medical Campus
University of Colorado Cancer Center remains in distinguished company having received a prestigious designation from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This is the fourth time the CU Cancer Center has been named a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the NCI.
Read More

Make a difference.
Give today!
CU Link
Your CU Community Connection
More than 30,000 of your CU friends are members
of one of our online communities. Are you?

Your record ID is ${.vars["personalizedtags__security_info"]}. Use your ID number to register for CU Link.

Office of the President, University of Colorado
1800 Grant Street, Suite 800, Denver, CO 80203
General Phone: 303 860 5600 | Fax: 303 860 5610 |
Facebook Twitter