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Should you go into debt to earn a degree?

No, it’s a waste of money

By Hayden McBennett, November 20 2014 —

A university degree once meant a stable, well-paying career. That’s no longer the case, but we still buy into the sacrosanct importance of higher education.

Since 2007, admissions averages in programs at the University of Calgary have steadily increased. At the same time, university degrees are becoming financially inaccessible. Administration doesn’t even try to hide their desire for tuition hikes and market modifiers.

Fields like law, business and engineering are the safest bet when it comes to finding a job after university. But market modifiers have targeted these degrees, making them more expensive to pursue.

Although the projected average income in these fields is high, students shouldn’t be subject to gouging. And taking on debt to earn a degree that doesn’t guarantee you a job is a financial misstep, especially for students who don’t have families with stable finances who would be willing to support them in the event of economic downturn.

With tuition on the rise, a university education is becoming a luxury that only the wealthy can afford. According to a 2007 study done by the Higher Education Quality Council of Toronto, the vast majority of high school graduates who don’t participate in post-secondary do so for financial reasons. And students with more debt are less likely to complete their degrees.

Financial stress is a prevalent issue. We’ve become a generation of debt. Taking on debt to complete a university degree delays traditional milestones of adulthood, like getting married or owning property.

With no promise of a well paying job — or any job for that matter — and the expectation that students begin to pay back loans six months after graduating, the incentives to attend university are disappearing. Soaring costs could only be justified if university degrees still guaranteed job security and a higher pay. Now, a bachelor of arts will get you a nicely framed piece of card stock.

Well-paying jobs for university graduates are flooded with applicants. The market is saturated with people just as overqualified as you are. We’re still buying into the idea that university leads straight to a comfortable career when people with advanced degrees are working jobs suitable for high schoolers. The only people seeing a payoff from inaccessible higher education are university administrators and corporations.

The average starting salary for a university grad is $43,000 for a man and $35,926 for a woman, according to a TD economics study. With the average debt for each student estimated at around $27,000, according to the Canadian Federation of Students, it’ll take years of work to see a return on your investment.

The real trouble is that the cost of university is rising faster than inflation. While living expenses and many salaries increase with inflation, tuition is rising faster than the income and savings of average families.

It used to be reasonable to expect students to pay for university on a full-time summer job, but taking on debt is now expected of students.

To add to the issue of inaccessibility, the applicant pool is flooded in prestigious programs like engineering, so the entrance averages and requirements are becoming nearly impossible to achieve.

Higher education is an important part of society, but market modifiers, higher living costs and huge student loans are leading to its demise. Our system of post-secondary education needs a shift that will make it more affordable and accessible.

If you’re content with a history degree and a low-paying job, enjoy yourself. The system might be broken, but it probably isn’t changing in the next couple of years. If you’re looking to make money and get a well-paying job, get a trade.

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Yes, it’s a valuable investment

By Emilie Medland-Marchen, November 27 2014 —

Student debt might be a financial risk, but higher education is still worth the cost. Taking on debt is worth it for both the degree earned at the end of post-secondary education and the skills you’ll obtain through four years of university.

A degree is a symbol of effort. Years of university give students the ability to perform under pressure, follow due dates and manage stress. Aside from highly technical or academic work, a bachelor’s degree is worth it because of the effort and commitment it symbolizes.

Students might complain that trade workers earn more than fresh university graduates, but the skills learned at post-secondary institutions are worth more than earning potential alone. Committing hours of your life to a goal is a character-building experience. The character traits of patience and perseverance under stress are invaluable assets.

It’s true that you can learn most of the ideas taught in university by checking out books from the public library, but it’s the experience of university that’s invaluable to students, not just the knowledge gained.

Economic stagnation has many students questioning the monetary value of university degrees. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development sees youth unemployment as a more pressing issue than regular employment. Of course, students graduating university right now face more uncertain prospects than graduates at a time where the economy is unstable.

But workers with a university degree still earn more than those who haven’t gone beyond high school, according to Statistics Canada. And income isn’t the sole motivation for many students. Intrinsic value still serves as motivation for many degrees.

University students need to use their skills to their fullest potential. The ability to structure a cohesive argument, logically reason through problems and budget time and finances are valuable skills that can be applied outside academia. It’s using these skills in the working world that makes a successful graduate.

Learning anything, even the intricacies of Israeli politics, is rarely a waste of time. Knowledge for its own sake is important. Students should stop looking at their degrees as a stepping stone to jobs and instead see them for what they are — a chance to develop as a person. A university degree is empirically worth the cost, but it’s what you choose to do with your degree that’s most valuable.

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