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How Much is a Degree Worth? Cost vs Value in Education

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Do you get up every day dreading the thought of going to work? Well you are not alone! Purpose and passion is lacking in the lives of many people, high-jacked by an agenda all-too-often pushed in publications that discourage young people from straying from the traditional, familiar path. Often this is presented in the form of “sound advice” that poses as friendly concern and leaves out critical facts.

Recently, a local business publication in San Francisco published such a report revealing the cost of student loan debt incurred by students at Bay Area colleges and universities.  The report listed the degrees that presumably leave graduates with the highest student debt load.

Not surprisingly, the report revealed that graduate degrees accounted for those that create the largest amount of debt.  In fact, students pursuing graduate degrees incur an average of $18,210 in yearly debt, while undergraduate students incur about $5,460 of student loan debt yearly.

The 10 most expensive degrees in the Bay Area were found to be primarily graduate degrees in well-paying professions such as law and psychology, as well as degrees in dentistry and other medical fields. The costliest among those, of course, were PhDs.  Specialized master’s degrees in the arts at schools like Academy of Art University, and in specialized creative fields such as architecture, appeared further down on the list.

Among the institutions listed, the article singles out the highly respected Academy of Art University in San Francisco as one of those with the highest cumulative student loan debt. But it falls short of analyzing the value of a private, specialized, technical education at such an institution.

How should you measure Return on Educational Investment?

A well-known standing reality is that the most lucrative degrees cost the most to attain. Yet most publications fail to provide real perspective by providing enough insight into the strategy of investing in an education that truly prepares you for economic solvency and satisfying, professional employment in the career of your choice.

The value of any particular degree and what its return on investment could look like must be realistically considered when discussing cost to value ratios in education.  The professional opportunities awarded by each field of study and the possibilities for real employment upon graduation have to be factored in.

For example, what is the difference between what you can expect to earn after completing an undergraduate degree versus a graduate degree?

And how do you measure the value of a degree program taught by top industry insiders that provides hands-on practical experience and builds skills in a growing and highly profitable field, leading to immediate employment with a lucrative salary?

Are you willing to pay more for the smaller-sized classrooms and more favorable teacher-to-student ratio offered by smaller, private universities?

Does the value of your education also take into account the cost of providing the program and all that it entails? In other words, if the institution spends top dollar on the latest equipment and technology, and hiring key faculty that can connect students directly to opportunities in the field, shouldn’t that also be factored into what you’re investing in your degree?

Let’s say you had an opportunity to invest $100k with the potential return of $60K+ yearly for the next 30 years, would you invest?  What if that investment was in your own education?

Comparing Educational and Professional Scenarios

“They tell me it costs less over here, until you factor in reality…”

When earning a master’s degree in Liberal Arts, a student will often need to incur the additional expense of completing a Ph.D. in order to reach the summit of their professional credentials.  By comparison, you can earn a degree such as an MFA in Animation & Visual Effects that can land you a job as an FX designer in the animation and VFX industry right out of college. In the Bay Area, a starting salary in this field is about $60K yearly, with growth opportunities that could lead to satisfying six-figure incomes in what may well be considered a “dream career.”

If you compare this scenario with the amount of student loan debt a student will incur while earning a Ph.D. in psychology, that amount could be twice as much as the amount incurred while pursuing the MFA from Academy of Art University.  Additionally, the Ph.D. graduate in psychology will still have to build up a reputation in their industry once they graduate before they start seeing truly lucrative earnings from their degree.

As you can see, this subject can be complex and there is no straightforward answer, as some might want you to believe. At the end of the day, it’s important to consider the value of your educational investment when determining how much to spend on your education and decide where to pursue your degree.

Identify your professional goals and consider such factors as cost, class size, specialty, and access to industry insiders when choosing between a public university and a private institution for your college education. Choose a career you will truly enjoy for the rest of your life, and one that will afford you the lifestyle you want to have. Eliminate the threat of feeling miserable at the thought of having to go to your job by choosing a profession that allows you to express your full creative potential while being compensated and recognized for your skills and talent.

When making the difficult decision of where to pursue your degree, the bottom line shouldn’t be about numbers: it should be about your dream career and how you plan to achieve it.

Related: Steve Lesnard: Consumer Focused, Data Obsessed

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