Friday, April 16, 2010

Higher (debt) Learning

When a higher learning facility promotes that their education is affordable, it’s all relative. What is affordable? The average cost of attending a four year college in the US is around $9000 per year. That is $36,000. By comparison, a British citizen would pay about $4600 a year or just over $18,000 a year. That’s half the cost.

Re-thinking my education

In my early 30’s, I felt trapped. I only had an Associate’s degree from a community college. I felt that meant nothing. It was tough to find alternative employment to what I already had. So I decided that I would go back to school. I enrolled in an Undergraduate Business Administration degree program. I worked hard and finished my degree. By the way, I graduated with a Summa Cum Laude (High Honors) designation. I was proud how I excelled my second time around. As I finished completion of this degree, I realized that by having an Undergrad degree did not set me apart from anyone else. This degree was equivalent to having a high school diploma 30 years ago. Everyone competing for a professional job had at least this type of degree plus experience in that field. I wanted to run a non-profit.

To better my chances, I felt that I needed to go after Master’s level degree. I enrolled into an MBA, 17-month program. It was the toughest, most time consuming project I ever took up in my life. Also, the same month I started this program, my youngest child, Owen was born. Talk about having no life! But again I graduated with a degree, which would have been equivalent to a Magna Cum Laude or Cum Laude Honor designation if the institution that I graduated from designated that in their Master’s program.

I am proud of my educational achievements. However, I have nothing to show for it. I am working at the organization I started with prior to earning my undergraduate degree. I earned small modest raises, but nothing equivalent to match my degrees. In fact, I am deeper in the hole. The debt that I accumulated from these degrees do not come close to the added income I generated from these degrees. This statement is a hard pill for me to swallow. If I didn’t go back to college, I would be better off financially.

Downturn in economy (silverlining?)

Of course, when I was graduating with my Master’s degree in early 2007, the economic downturn was starting. Hiring was already slowing. Housing was starting to show signs of problems. It was not a good time to have a company invest into someone like me. I realize that now. If I knew then what I know now, I would have not taken these classes and earned these degrees.

However, I am cautiously optimistic that I am about to turn a corner. I recently created, with others, a non-profit. It is a non-paid Director position, but what I am learning in running this agency can help me become more marketable. I have also taken up writing. This blog is a way for me to express myself and to see if I can 
spurn some interest in the commodity of me.

Question your reasons!

One piece of advice to potential college students that I have is to research. Of course you will research the school that you want to go to and research your course of study. It may be in demand, but is it worth the degree. As a business major, one key business tool that I learned is ROI (Return On Investment).  Please research your return on investment. Will it be worth the money you spend? Will it provide added value to your professional worth? Most of the time the answer will probably be yes. You can no longer afford to earn a degree because you like the profession. You need to be able to determine if you will be better off with or without it.

Would I have done things differently?

If I would base this question on the here and now, yes. I would not have taken these courses. It was a great achievement to do what I have done and I am proud of that. But the money I am in debt now cannot justify the end result. However, I am still semi-optimistic that things will change for me.

Back to the original point.

Our country has a great higher education system in place and it is expanding, especially in this economy. To stay in stride with everyone else, you are now required to go to college. This is a big expense that previous generations never had to deal with. Ponder this, will we be paying on student loans when we retire. Those of us that have completed our education in our later 30’s-early 40’s could have 20-30 year student loans to pay. If you are 45 and start paying on a 30 year loan that will take you to 75 years of age! I think we would be luck to retire if we are still paying. Maybe like other countries, this system will be adjusted.

That is just some food for thought!  

By the way, is anyone in need of a Director for a Non-Profit? J


  1. Hey Craig,

    Interesting post. I'm sorry to hear you haven't realized the gains you anticipated when you began the programs. You're right though, things are turning around. I would argue that you are much better off now than you were before, even if not financially (hopefully that will come!) As you may or may not remember, I was in a similar situation. Finishing my undergraduate degree, though, allowed me to significantly improve my station. As for the MBA, when I began the program I did so knowing ahead of time I wouldn't see any additional gains. While I do hope it will benefit me when I ultimately change careers, a large part of my rationale for undertaking the additional burdens of time, commitment, and definitely expense was in large part personal satisfaction and self-respect. I've always known I was relatively bright, but I also believed I was underachieving. Now I KNOW I was not only good enough but also among the best, and nobody can ever take that away. I guess my point is not all benefits are necessarily related to money.


    PS Just to remind you of our days in school, you have a typo in your header (last word, first sentence should be ON not ONE LOL)

  2. Jim,
    I have realized the gains. I would have never thought that about creating an non-profit, but I did. The education I received can never be taken away from me. However, this particular blog is all about ROI. All I am trying to say is just because you make the investment in this education (bill), it doesn't necessarily equate to a good return on your investment. This degree would have open more opportunities for you 10-15 years ago. Now the same degree is watered down because so many other people are getting the same degree. I use that "whole brain thinking" thinking theories more than I thought. Also Jim I will never look at breakfast products marketing the same way again!