College by the Numbers

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What with high unemployment rates and soaring costs of higher education, there’s no shortage of skepticism about whether a college degree is truly worth the time and expense. Whether college is a good investment or not is a question that has come up again and again and again and again. Here are some important, often surprising figures to help you decide—not only if a degree is worth it, but also where to go to school, what to study, and how you might possibly have a shot in hell at paying for college without piling up massive debt.
Less than 1 Increasingly, the number of years kids attend college before seeking advice for pursuing specific career paths. Thanks in no small part to unemployment rates hovering near 10%, students are more likely to seek career counseling advice and help choosing worthwhile majors before they’ve finished freshman year. The AP reports that interest in career counseling and career center programs are up more than 30% at many universities.

At least 4 The number of books published this fall that say most colleges are overpriced, bound to ensnare students in debt that’ll be extremely difficult to pay off, overflowing with too many administrators and lazy overpaid tenured professors, guilty of price gouging with ever-rising tuitions and fees, guilty of intentionally encouraging students to not graduate in four years (so they’ll pay more in tuition to the college), bad at giving kids solid, practical, well-rounded educations, or some combination therein. These books are:

Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities
Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents
The Five-Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up on Educating Your Child and What You Can Do About It
Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—and What We Can Do About It
4.6 vs. 10.3 The unemployment rates in August 2010 for workers 25 and older with, respectively, four-year college degrees and just with high school degrees, according to the WSJ, which also reports that the median duration for being unemployed was 18.4 weeks for college grads and 27.5 weeks for high school grads.

7 Recently measured percentage of student loan defaults. That’s up from 6.7% in the previous fiscal year, and 5.2% the year before that.

9 out of 10 When corporate recruiters were recently asked to name their favorite schools for finding students who are ready to enter the workforce and become productive employees, 9 out of the top 10 were state colleges, not the more expensive, more “exclusive” private universities.

17 Number of years it typically takes for college costs to increase by a multiple of three. Per data cited by the WSJ, the average in-state tuition was $7,020 per year in 2009-2010, so if you just had a baby, you can expect tuition at that same institution to be three times as high ($21,060 a year) when your child is ready to enroll. To save an ample amount, parents should be saving $200 a month in order to pay for a public university education, and $430 a month for a private school.

33 The percentage discount off the “sticker price” that the average student receives at a private college. In other words, on average, private college students pay only 67% of the full listed tuition price.

39, 61 From 1993 to 2007, the percentage increases in overall college spending on instruction (i.e. teaching) and administrations, respectively, when adjusted for inflation.

64 Percentage of Americans in a recent survey who say that college is a good investment. Just a year ago, 80% of people said that they believed college was a good investment.

$21,900 The difference in median full-time annual earnings between a worker with a bachelor degree ($55,700) and a worker with just a high school degree ($33,800), as of 2008. This is according to a new College Board report that also finds that a college degree typically pays off as a financial investment around the age of 33—which is when someone who attended a state college has earned enough to pay off loans and made up for lost earnings during four years as a student.

$175K, $365K The estimated costs for a child born this year to attend a state university or private college, respectively, according to the Washington Post. Also reported: The estimated amount that the average family will save by the time their baby is ready for college is $48,000.

$400K Reports have said that, over the course of three decades in the workforce, college graduates out-earn high school grads by as much as $1.6 million. But that’s hogwash, per a BusinessWeek story. A more likely estimate, which factors in the costs of college as well as the likelihood that not all students graduate in four years, puts the value of a college degree at $400,000 over a 30-year career.

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