College is worth it if you can get out in five years or less

The Financial Aid and Scholarship Department offered its last free workshop at the Community Center on Campus on Tuesday, November 15. Students were given advice on how to invest time and money while being a student in college. Photo Credit: Mariela Molina / Visual Editor
The Financial Aid and Scholarship Department offered its last free workshop at the Community Center on Campus on Tuesday, November 15. Students were given advice on how to invest time and money while being a student in college. Photo Credit: Mariela Molina / Visual Editor

Nationally, college graduates have been shown to earn about one million dollars more than high school graduates over a lifetime.

This factoid has been repeated to high school students since I was in high school, five years ago. Unfortunately, my counselors and teachers did not elaborate that not all degrees are created equal.

In Payscale’s 2011 update to its ‘20 Best-paying College Degrees’ survey, the best degrees to invest in are business and engineering fields that require advanced levels of math. These fields pay well and are in demand.

The cost of education at CSUN includes more than the $6600 a year in tuition alone, which is scheduled to increase in Fall 2012. Gas, Housing, books and bills add to this non-fixed cost.

In the last ‘Money Matters’ lecture of the semester, CSUN Financial Aid and Scholarship department’s response to students lack of finance knowledge, mathematics professor Carol Shubin explained what students can do to limit these tuition costs.

“Aim to graduate in five years or less,” she said “Since per unit costs increase gradually, education will continue to increase as students attend college.”

That is, the more time students take switching majors or dabbling, the more their degree will cost them.

I believe in college being a venue for exploration of ideas and place for learning what you want to learn.

However, in discussing education as the investment I needed to go to college for,  as I had been told, I wish I had been prepared with a clearer direction than what I started with.

The higher education bubble, the concept that loan taking and number of people attending college will cause the trend to burst, has students worried, with reports from the Associated Press, MSNBC, and Forbes noting that student loans, unlike houses, cannot be filed under bankruptcy or sold.

For 25-year-old finance major, Christopher Alvarado, the topic drew him to come to the ‘Money Matters’ event.

“I just figured I would pick up some new info, and that’s what I got,” said Alvarado, a transfer student who has taken out student and personal loans, “It is important to learn things that students are ignorant about.”

Federal Stafford Loans are given to students after a brief explanation and quiz over the terms of accepting the loans. These loans are offered to all citizen students.

It’s tough, Alvarado said, that students come out of college with $100,000 in debt into an economy with no jobs.

“I learned here about the Peace Corp and Teach for America,” Alvarado said, “I could pay off my loans working with these organizations better than I could with a part time job.”

Teach for America offers $10,700 of loan assistance for each year of teaching and the Peace Corps offers loan deferment and even cancellation after serving with them.

Students with engineering degrees in progress have been able to find paid internships using their skills, decreasing the cost of higher education.

Working, Shubin said, takes up studying time and can prolong a student’s stay in college, increasing the cost of education over time.

“In the past, accepting a $10,000 loan to finish early was a better decision, but now it’s not so easy,” said Shubin, “as students working about 20 hours a week do better.”

After 130 units, students will cease to receive financial aid. Essentially paying for your own college could leave you in college longer than you expect exceeding the unit limit, missing financial aid and only available to receive federal loans.

I am a transfer student, like much of the student body, and didn’t take the freshman seminar. More finance education should be given to transfer students and freshman before they decide to come into college.

Maybe they’ll reconsider getting a liberal arts degree or take a year off until they are mentally and financially prepared to utilize their time and money into graduating in five years or less.

Unit caps, which were set in place to allow more transfer students, seem to me like a mixed bag. The limit will force students to be more focused in choosing their courses, or will provide the environment where the higher education bubble might begin to burst.