Clearly, there can be problems when students and their families take on too much debt to pay for school. But the pendulum has swung too far. Many potential college students are not going to university, forever hindering themselves, partly because of fear of debt.
Here is the headline news that is now discouraging students from going to college. According to the Wall Street Journal, the 2015 college graduating class took on the highest average debt per borrower ever. With up to $33,000 to repay on average, about 40 million Americans owe close to $1.2 trillion in college debt. With these kinds of figures, it is understandable that many decide not to pursue a college degree.
Figures collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the median pay for a job as a server, bartender, or cashier rarely exceeds $20,000 per year. Even one of the highest paid jobs for non-graduates, which is that of a flight attendant, has a median salary of $37,240 per year.
On the other hand, the graduating class of 2014, armed with their college degrees, made a median of $45,478 per year as a starting salary, according to Time magazine. Moreover, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco states that, even after making conservative assumptions, "the college graduate would have made about $830,800 more than a high school graduate" by the time the graduate retires at the age of 67. Clearly, $830,800 is far more than the $33,000 plus interest that a student may borrow and owe.
What is more, the Pew Research Center states that the unemployment rate is three times higher for people with a high school diploma than for those with a college degree. Furthermore, the center goes on to say that the share of people living in poverty is more than three times higher for high school graduates, and the salary gap between college and high school graduates is growing larger each year.
At the risk of setting off a debate about the purpose of education, the tables below present information about the best and worst paid majors. This is not to say that one should only major in a specific subject on the grounds that it pays more. The primary driver can be love for the subject. Yet, it is important to consider the major's future potential compensation in order to assess how difficult it could be to repay a certain amount of debt.
As the reader can appreciate, all of the highest paid majors are related to quantitative fields. Given that not many people pursue these specialties, there are usually fewer people trained in these professions than there is demand for people with these skills. Consequently, companies are frequently offering high salaries to attract these talents.
On the opposite end, we have the lowest paying degrees. Many of these majors are directly related to education, social work and the arts. People pursuing these degrees should consider that repaying college loans, after studying these subjects, may be more complicated.
Evidence strongly suggests that going to college opens the possibility of earning more money over a lifetime, and that it is very possible to repay even a large amount of college debt. So although some majors have potentially greater earning power than others, any college degree is likely to have greater earning power than no degree, and students should not be deterred from reaching their potential by the possibility of debt.