Is College a Bad Investment?

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Perhaps heading off to college right after high school isn’t the slam dunk decision it has been in the past. Somehow, the going rate for a year’s tuition, room, and board is now in the neighborhood of $50,000 at many colleges. That’s a lot to pay for four years of keg stands, random hookups, and occasional insights into all that man has learned, mixed with an overall slothful atmosphere. (That was my college experience anyway.) Even with hefty tuition fees, many universities are struggling to stay above water, and it seems likely that some smaller schools will have to close. As education costs skyrocket and the economy seems to be providing little opportunity for college grads to pay their loans back, maybe it’s time to question the assumption that every kid who can go to college should go to college.

Joe Lamacchia, the owner of a Massachusetts landscaping company and author of Blue Collar & Proud of It, flatly says that a lot of kids should not go to college. As he tells USA Today, not everyone is cut out to wear a suit and sit behind a desk:

“Carpenters, electricians, plumbers. My brother-in-law is making $60,000 to $70,000 a year installing heating and air conditioning units. Guys throwing trash are making $50,000 a year — they’re not living out of an airport/suitcase. It’s a nice life.”

The NY Times, meanwhile, has been hitting the college beat quite a bit lately, particularly as it relates to the recession. There was an online debate about whether student loans are too burdensome. There was a story about the trend of college students begging for loans not from banks but from rich alumni of the university they’re attending. And stories about how colleges are cutting back on everything from landline phones to bus tours for new faculty to faculty themselves, and about how colleges are filling their campuses in the summer with sports camps and workshops to try to make some profits in what traditionally had been a down time.

To go or not to go to college is obviously up to each family and each potential student. I’m just wondering if the equation has changed, and whether more people will decide not to go, or to put off college until it makes sense. In any event, schools rated as “best value colleges” are looking better and better.