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May 20, 2013


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The writer chose journalism, so obviously, ROI wasn't much of a factor to him.

Just kidding! Seriously, though, I think that a LOT of people go completely illogical when it comes to college because they're told so many times that every degree is worth it and that the college matters a great deals and that this is the most important decision EVER, etc., etc. Logic and the realization of what it is that people are actually BUYING when they pay for college goes out the window. If it didn't, colleges wouldn't be charging what they are now...

I agree with you for the most part. We considered cost when our children went to college. We did not raid retirement in order to fund college.

We did not focus on employment in the way you suggest. First, since we focused on what we could afford, the burden of debt on us or our children was not a factor. Second, since neither of us nor most of our friends work in fields directly related to our degree (and we have been reasonably successful), we did not see the connection between college and employment as critical. Finally, this was 15 years ago and I had not yet been exposed to as many ideas as I have discovered on blogs!

In alot of cases it is the blind leading the blind.

There are several firends of my son graduating class whos parents are letting their kids borrow all this money for degrees that will not pay that much. These parents never went to college so they don't know what this all means and some of them are living paycheck to paycheck in debt themselves.

It is bad enough when a kids does not know any better but when a parent doesn't know any better.... that is extermely dangerous.

I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of looking at what types of jobs you can expect with given degrees. I think this all points back to a huge problem that we run into and that is not making an informed decision when it comes to college. It's like all common sense goes out the window and no thought is given to the long term impact.

As a journalist, I didn't have extensive training in business, religion, government, etc. I had extensive training in how to be a journalist and to publish what people say. As a reporter focuses on a "beat" or area they like to write about, they become knowledgeable about the subject, but they don't deem themselves experts, because of lack of formal training. We print the words of our sources, and make sure to do our best to tell accurate stories. Stop blaming the messenger.

If you follow DEMETRIA GALLEGOS on the WSJ, you'll find that she's a good and candid writer about family fiscal dynamics - but not always the soundest financial planner. Her description of the daughter's thought process should give one hope for the future of the family's next generation.

An immigrant perspective. I came to USA for my MBA 13 years ago. My choices in applying were a few Ivy schools that offered access to private loans and some third tier schools where I would be able to pay my way through TA jobs. I chose the Ivy route, emerging 2 years later with a 6-figure debt. However, the investment paid off, the student loans are long gone and I have a terrific job I wouldn't get had I chosen a different type of school. I am not an exception, most of my colleagues at b-school ended up more or less there (depending on some life choices afterwards as well).

I do support thinking through the ROI. Having 2 preschool age kids to plan for, I would strongly encourage them to pick a versatile specialty with good job opportunities (STEM would be my preference, but who knows what changes we'll see by the time they grow up:-). And I will make sure they think through what kind of field they would like to work in before considering college and majors. But I wouldn't shy away from a more expensive school and loans if the kids have the smarts and the work ethic to make something out of the investment. In my experience the expensive colleges can be a door opener for quite a few years during your early career.

I totally agree that if you have the chance to go to an Ivy league, by means take it!

I also never see articles on the valuation of extensive alumni networks. That is something hardly anyone looks at, but it truely does open doors when students are ready to graduate.

On that note, i think the standard now is a Masters degree to gain the edge. she should go cheap for bachelor's to consider the continual loans to go to a masters program.

I was the first member of my extended family to go to college. I married my childhood sweetheart and we emigrated here back in 1956. We had three children, two girls and a boy.

Our eldest child, a daughter, was a very average child at high school and started taking courses at a junior college but pretty soon wanted a more exciting life so she obtained a job as a flight attendant, moved to Texas and started seeing the world and having fun. After a number of years the airline folded so she moved back home and went to dental school and became a dental assistant. After doing that for several years she switched again and this time got a job working for an attorney and worked her way up to becoming his office manager. She is still works for him but telecommutes from Hawaii and handles all of the billing. At the age of 54 she has an investment portfolio of $2M that I manage for her.

Our second child, also a daughter, was a great student and sailed through our local state university while living at home and obtained a BS in Business & Marketing with a minor in Math. She met the aforementioned attorney, married him but at his insistence became a stay at home wife. After 18 years her marriage broke up but she received a good settlement and now has an investment portfolio of $3M that I manage for her.

The third child was a boy, very bright but didn't like school and got poor grades. He had visions of becoming a Rock Star and he and his friends moved to L.A. and formed a band. They did quite well with the band but after a year or two realized that they were never going to make the big time so they disbanded it. He then became an auto apprentice but that didn't last so he went to work for a company that repaired hi-tech vacuum pumps. After a back injury, handling heavy pumps was not possible so he asked his boss if he could become a sales guy and go on the road selling the pumps. His boss said "yes", and he did very well at that. After 2 or 3 job moves he ended up working for a Swiss/German company that makes the best pumps in the business and is now Western District Sales manager for his company, making $150K/year and has an investment portfolio of about $1M that I manage for him.

Bottom line - not all kids are college material and in today's world of sky high college tuitions be careful what you agree to with your kids education. The one child out of three that we had paid her own way through state college, but that was in the days when college fees were very low indeed.

Cost should be a factor, but the comments are great today too. If my kid can get into an Ivy league school, we'd probably encourage him to do it. Network and connection can last a lifetime. Good luck to your kids.

Not all the kids are college material, Old Limey said it best. And they don't have to be. Neither for financial reasons, nor for personal status. A good electrician often does much better than a PhD in science (I should know). As long as the person is a good person and lives responsibly with his/her finances.

Yes cost should be a factor. But you should look at the NET cost after financial aid. You shouldn't limit yourself to looking only at the "retail sticker price" of the published full tuition rate. But to find out the net cost you have to apply to the schools first. This is kind of a 'chicken and egg' problem. You need to apply to the schools to find out how much financial aid you'll which is the real answer to the cost question, but you ought to consider cost in determining which schools to apply to.

I'd take a good look at how much financial aid the schools usually give out. What % of students get aid and how much is the average amount of aid. Thats a big factor for most people. (assuming your income /assets aren't in the top 5-10% to disqualify you from any aid)

Cast a wider net and apply to more schools. THe local private school *might* give you much better aid than the public school and result in a lower net cost. I applied to 3 in state schools and the local private school came #2 in total cost beating one of the public schools.

Bethany said: "Stop blaming the messenger."

In this case the author was talking about her own personal story. So this is not just a 'messenger' situation. I don't expect journalists to be experts in the fields they report on. But I would prefer they not be a bad example of the topic matter at least.

Olga said: "A good electrician often does much better than a PhD in science (I should know)."

They can but they usually do not. Median / mean pay for electricians is typically closer to 1/2 of what a Phd in Science. The exceptions are not typical. Only the top 10% of electricians make what Phds and those are often in high cost of living areas.
And PhD's in science don't die from electrocution nearly as often. PhDs don't usually hit 20% unemployment during recessions like the construction industry. PhDs don't usually have to work outdoors in the rain or snow like electricians. I'd take a Phd in Science over a journeyman electrician license any day.

I agree with your point in general. Electrician is a good career with good wages. And not all college grads make good wages. But lets not try and pretend that electrician is simple or easy work or that job conditions don't often suck.

College is a time for kids to broaden out and grow up, hopefully learn a bit of facts but also meet some surprising ideas and people. I do not agree that one should only look at the job the kid is going to get at the other end of it....that should be only part of the equation.. Obviously costs must be taken into account, but MOST of the outcome of college will ALWAYS be up to the kid themselves. A kid who is not intellectual and does not have curiosity...that kid should still attend college for the future job benefit, but that kid will not benefit from Ivy league. But another kid would benefit a lot from those extra opportunities. Also, a kid who wont study, that kid will get only minimal benefit from any college. So, a college education is not something you go out and buy like a car and then stick in your garage, it is an opportunity just like an entry level job is an opportunity, it is something to build on. And what a kid does with that opportunity is more important than anything else.

When our son started going to college, I advised him to meet with the student adviser to see if the college can help him by going to classes one semester and skipping the next so he could work full time during the skipped semester. Who says you have to finish 4-year college in 4 years. Hopefully, he will be finishing it in a little less than 7 years with great work experience. So he works one semester to pay for the next. Some institutions do have program like that. My son created his own program with the help of college adviser.

You are so right, there are so many benefits from a college education that benefit you in ways that you never imagined. One is the effect it can have of broadening and developing your mind so that you can appreciate much of the programming on PBS rather than getting hooked on the garbage that is full of irritating advertisments and crappy shows that pass for news and entertainment on the great majority of commercial channels.

In my case my education was in mechanical engineering and that has helped me in so many other ways, particularly in retirement and as a homeowner for the last 50 years. My programming skills were critical in enabling me to achieve fantastic results with our investment portfolio. My other skills have enabled me to fix just about anything that needs fixing in our home. Over the years I have bought "How to - - - " books and taught myself how to tackle plumbing and electrical jobs such as installing sprinkler systems, new electrical circuits and gas lines, a Spa, and then later converting it into a fishpond. I also do all of our garden maintenance as well as having a large vegetable garden that supplies us with all the fruit and vegetables we need during our local growing season here in Northern California. For many years I also used to do all of my own car maintenance but cars have now become so complicated and require the use of very expensive equipment that it's no longer feasible.

A quality education and cost should be the #1 and #1a considerations when choosing a school. Unless you are going to Harvard, Stanford, or Yale in a competitive field it really doesn't matter where you go to school.

I worked in institutional research for a university ... retention rates where predicated on good of fit, more than any other factor. The university spend big $$$ trying to get students to feel a home. I agree that cost is in the top two considerations ... thought I'd give two cents from the trench.

Like Jim said you have to look at the total cost after financial aid/scholarships and as Ivy said you then have to look at ROI. Elite schools are seen as special (i.e. they open more doors) but the program of study is still a caveat and DOES matter in determining if cost of college is worth it. You should figure that if you couldn't get a scholarship for Art in any regular school then why would you go to an elite and become an Art major just because you got into Harvard, you like Art, and that is what you want to do for four years?

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