Kwak: Despite high tuition, universities are worth the cost

A topic I love to talk about with my roommates is college and the purpose of college. As a psychology major my focus was to learn about something that really interested me, something which I now know will put me at a significant income disadvantage compared to an engineering or business major unless if I go to graduate school.

I started to think about a lot of things and wonder if I had chosen the wrong major. I ask myself what should college be. Should have I had more guidance? Should it be a place to learn about the things you find interesting and love? To discover a passion for a subject area and inspire you to see the world differently? or should it teach practical and meaningful skills so that you will be able to have a decent job with decent pay?

I will admit that I didn’t give the pay gap much thought when coming here and trying to say that I was ill-informed seems like a poor excuse so I’ll count that one out. As for the rest of the questions, if you’re like me the answer should ideally be “all of the above”. College should open your mind to new experiences while giving you practical skills to maintain a sharp edge in the work world. Another question that arises is, “At what cost?”

I ask this because I recently read an article on Yahoo! Finance about a girl who graduated from college with $200,000 in debt. It doesn’t sound bad until you realize that she has a degree in sociology which probably means she won’t pay down her debts any time soon with monthly payments of almost $900.

This is a problem that also applies to students here. According to the GSB website, Iowa State leads the nation for the amount of debt a student will have after they graduate which is $30,000. While this is very high I feel that this number is manageable even for someone graduating with a degree in social sciences. It certainly is a lot more manageable than $200,000 at the very least.

Sometimes I feel like in agreement with my roommates that college is just a waste of money or an outright scam. Certainly I feel like it’s an outright scam if people are being left in hundreds and thousands of dollars in debt to obtain an undergraduate degree. But there are times when you begin to think if you’ve made a big mistake.

For example, maybe I could have gone to community college and maybe pay nine times less than what I’m paying now to get an associate’s degree in a technical area to make decent money.

But somehow I feel that the extra money is worth paying for. Does a community college grant you research opportunities? It seems like most of them would not. After all they are more or less technical colleges that serve to teach you skills, not research institutions.

What about opportunity? Iowa State offers career fairs so that by the time you graduate hopefully you will have found employment right after you receive your degree. Looking at a community college near where I live in Kansas, they don’t have anything like Iowa State’s career management service.

That nine times higher cost of attending Iowa State gives me a four-year degree. An experience that is wholly unique to universities that community colleges can’t match. Not only do I get to learn about something I really like, I also have the opportunity to participate in research work in the field already. Should I want, I could even find a job so that I’m employed by the time I graduate.

But is it all worth it? I would say yes for now. A debt of $30,000 is manageable for most students, especially engineers. Unfortunately it is also expectable for that number to increase as tuition also increases. College should remain affordable and open to people to a certain extent. If being able to pay starts to become an admissions criteria, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate education spending.