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Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Financials ignite controversy over college education’s worth

Amid rising tuition costs and lower education trust, Americans reevaluate college as a longstanding pillar of the American Dream.
A+photograph+design+depicting+a+university+degree+alongside+cash+by+Michael+Cook.
A photograph design depicting a university degree alongside cash by Michael Cook.

The U.S. Department of Education projected an 8% increase in total enrollment in college in its last report in February 2024. This report contrasts with a 2023 Gallup poll that found American trust in higher education has plummeted to its lowest point ever. 

Many students are questioning the worth of a college education as they weigh potential job opportunities and earnings against tuition costs and financial barriers.

Mark Kantrowitz, a leading national expert on student financial aid, Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), college scholarships and student loans, believes that a single factor does not cause a decrease in enrollment. Instead, he thinks that there are dozens of financial and political factors combined to lead to the current trend.

“The trend is downward and so there’s a couple reasons. One is that the cost of college education has increased even at the lowest-cost colleges. Another is that there has been a lot of political bad-mouthing of college education and saying it’s not worth it, even though a college education if you graduate, is the most reliable method to financial success. The issue is that if you don’t graduate, you’re going to struggle financially because you’ll have the debt, but not the degree that can help you repay the debt,” said Kantrowitz.

FAU spokesperson Joshua Glanzer believes FAU is in a good position and is outside the national trend of rising tuition costs. 

“The estimated average cost for students at Florida Atlantic is $5,890, which is a reduction of about $4,500 over the past five academic years and roughly $6,300 in savings since the 2017-18 academic year when the cost was $12,220,” wrote Glanzer. “We’ve reduced tuition and our applications are up. Additionally, I know our graduates have some of the highest average starting salaries in the SUS.” 

James Capp, FAU associate vice president for Strategic Planning and Student Success, adds that the university is ranked No. 26 in the nation for social mobility from U.S. News and World Report 2024, which allows 83% of low-income students to advance one income bracket after graduating. 

“The lifelong financial benefits of a bachelor’s degree continue to deliver a significant return on investment in terms of measurably higher salaries and personal fulfillment. It’s important for universities to spotlight the valuable role they play in fueling the local and state economy, which is something we do well at Florida Atlantic University,” said Capp.

Higher education’s declining enrollment rates are influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, rising anti-intellectualism and political contention, as outlined by Kantrowitz.

“Colleges are going to have harder times filling their classes, especially the ones that are less well-known. There’s been a rise in anti-intellectualism and a significant increase in political conflicts over higher education […] and when you have this negative animus going on, it does affect the likelihood of people enrolling in college,” said Kantrowitz. 

Julian Cardenas, who studied business management at FAU in 2017, was placed on academic probation for failing to maintain a 2.0 grade point average during his first academic year. In 2018, he left FAU to pursue a career in entrepreneurship without a degree, opening his own retail business, The Thriff.

Cardenas has no regrets about dropping out but admits to the difficulties of success without a college setting. He remains open to completing his undergraduate degree.

“I still think about returning to this day. I wish I could sit here and tell you that you don’t need college, that you can be your own boss, and that everything is going to work out, make TikToks, and you don’t have to work again, but that’s not the case. I’m happy with my choice — don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen the kids that I went to school now graduated, and a lot of them aren’t happy with what they’re doing or switching to do something else,” said Cardenas. “You need to have a plan because I think our education system is the most outdated system in this country. What worked years ago is not working in today’s economy, and at the end of the day — colleges are businesses.”

Joao Brandao, a 2023 FAU graduate, works at a law firm with a bachelor of arts degree in political science. He credits FAU for the educational opportunities. However, he believes tuition costs are an obstacle. 

“College tuition is way too high, and at times, it can discourage those wanting to proceed with their education, as well as going to their desired career,” said Brandao. “I’ve just been passionate in what I studied, so regardless of my salary, or if I got Pell Grants or not, I would’ve still gone through my career path.”

Economists use the term “college wealth premium” to describe the difference in wealth accumulation over a lifetime between those with a college degree and those without. This premium represents the difference between what one owns and what one owes.

This premium worked as expected for generations born in the 1940s through the 1960s, with college graduates typically accumulating significantly more wealth than their peers who only had high school diplomas—often two to three times as much.

However, this dynamic shifts for younger generations, particularly those born after the 1960s. For them, the wealth advantage associated with a college degree is much less pronounced. 

According to a report published by the Economic Research Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis, “Among families whose head is White and born in the 1980s, the college wealth premium of a terminal four-year bachelor’s degree is at a historic low; among families whose head is any other race and ethnicity born in that decade, the premium is statistically indistinguishable from zero.”

Notably, among Black and Latino families, this advantage has largely disappeared, leaving college-educated individuals with no more wealth over their lifetimes than those who stopped their education after high school. This diminishing return has made the prospect of college less attractive for some, as the financial risks and uncertainties now associated with obtaining a college degree have increased.

Not only have college prices soared across all higher education institutions in the country, but the wealth premium is decreasing or disappearing for some demographics. 

Despite the financial constraints of going to college and the growing skepticism about it, the reality is that financial opportunities are very limited for people with a high school diploma as the highest educational credential. 

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job sectors with the highest growth over the next decade for individuals possessing no more than a high school diploma will primarily encompass roles such as home health aides, food service workers, cooks and warehouse employees. These occupations typically offer a median annual salary of under $31,000.

Jennifer Altidor, a 31-year-old first-generation college graduate, holds a Respiratory Therapy nursing degree. She immigrated to the United States from Haiti when she was seven years old and greatly values education. However, financial considerations, including income and economic hardship risk, influence her opinion on higher education.

“There are a lot of people who would love to go to school, but then they don’t have the resources because financial aid is not giving them enough money, they have child care issues or whatever the case is. Thankfully, I’m done with school, but imagine if right now I would have to go back to school. I am not able to do it because I’m a single mother of three,” said Altidor. 

She acknowledges that there are multiple paths to success and earning an income. Obtaining a degree does not guarantee a job, as evidenced by her experience working in food service despite having a nursing degree.

Some individuals have lost motivation to pursue higher education due to the increased risks and uncertainties associated with attending college. 

Sofia De La Espriella is the News Editor for the University Press. Email [email protected] or message her on Instagram @sofidelaespriella for information regarding this or other stories.

Michael Cook is a Staff Writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Sofia De La Espriella
Sofia De La Espriella, Editor-in-Chief
Sofia is a senior double majoring in multimedia journalism and history. She is passionate about governance, foreign relations, and the Latin American region. On a determined path toward graduate school, Sofia aims to specialize in these fields and acquire an in-depth understanding of their intricacies. Ultimately, she aspires to become a respected political journalist.
Michael Cook, News Editor
Michael is a junior multimedia journalism major with a minor in public relations. He's passionate about film and photography, and his journey into journalism began when he served as an editor for his high school yearbook. Now, he aspires to become a television news producer.

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