I originally wrote this article back in 2013 to tout the value of investing in yourself. For the last couple of decades, we have seen thousands of people increase their income and job security by investing in professional development classes. So, when I originally wrote the article, I researched how much a Masters degree cost to achieve and compared that cost with the additional potential revenue that you could make by receiving the degree. I then compared that result with the much lower cost of professional development training and the return on investment that it provided. What I found was that professionals receive a much higher return on investment from professional development classes than from higher education degrees.
Recently, I've watched news outlets report about the higher cost of a Bachelors degree as well. As a business owner, I communicate consistently with peers who are also executives in companies. I started asking them years ago, "Is a college degree worth it anymore?" More and more often, the reply back is, all-be-it reluctantly, "I don't think so."
So, I have updated the article to include college degrees in the mix as well. Immediately below this sentence is the original article. A couple of paragraphs down, I give an update, though.
Increase Security and Income with Presentation Skills Training.
Want to get promoted or increase your salary? The ability to stand up and present your ideas effectively in front of a group is still one of, if not THE, most sought after skill sets in the business world, so, quite often, an investment in presentation skills training can have a more positive effect on your security and income than going back to school and getting a higher level degree. People who present their ideas well and who can motivate and persuade others often move up through the ranks of organizations more quickly than those who show fear or nervousness when they speak.
Actual Cost of a Masters Degree or MBA
A US Census report titled "The Big Payoff," gives statistical data that an average person with an MBA or other Master's Degree makes approximately $9000 more per year than a person with a Bachelor's Degree (about $400,000 more income over a lifetime. In Addition, MBAPrograms.org says, "You can take an MBA for $8,000, but you can't expect that to be a good one. The average cost is $40,000 for a year (or $80,000 for two years)." That means that, if you pay cash for the two years of graduate school (no financing), get the entire degree in two years, and keep your full-time job throughout the entire time you are going back to school, you'll break even at the end of 10 years. If you finance any of that $80,000 or if it takes you longer to get the degree because of your schedule, it will take even longer to break even. In 20 years, the return on the investment would be just $90,000.
Lifetime Benefit of Presentation Skills Training
In contrast, a good presentation skills training class like Fearless Presentations® takes only a couple of days to complete for an investment of less than $1,000 (a lot less for groups of 8 people or more). In a recent study performed by the Think-Tank, The Center for Talent Innovation entitled How to Get Promoted Now, the research found that the number one attribute to being promoted was having what they call "Executive Presence." This Executive Presence was composed of three attributes, (1) Gravitas, (2) Communication Skills, and (3) Appearance. They described gravitas as the ability to project self-confidence and poise under pressure. In communication skills, they specifically called attention to presentation skills, assertiveness, and the ability to read an audience. For appearance, the group specified that the most important part of the appearance wasn't whether the person was dressed appropriately (although they did say that this was important), but more important was that the person looked polished and pulled together. Since developing and strengthening each of these three aspects are an essential part of Fearless Presentations®, many participants of the class are promoted very shortly after strengthening these skills. If a single promotion increases a participant's salary by just $5,000 per year, then that participant will break-even within a few months of receiving the promotion and will generate over a 5000% return on investment within the same ten years that it takes a person to break even with a graduate degree. Assuming just a single promotion, over 20 years, the person would receive over $100,000 in additional salary because of this single investment. The good news is, though, that we quite often receive feedback from graduates who tell us that they have been promoted multiple times within two years of taking their first class.
So, graduate degrees can have a great benefit for some careers, and in some cases, a person will not be qualified for certain positions without a graduate degree. However, if you already have a job and you are looking for a promotion, presentation skills training can often give you a much more imminent and higher return on investment than going back to college.
So, Is a College Degree Worth It?
I was the first person in my family to go to college. Well, my uncle is a pastor, so he went to seminary, so I guess, technically, I'm the second. Before me, though, all my uncles and cousins went into the military for at least one tour, and then started their careers. Since the day that I graduated from my university, though, I have never once had anyone ever ask to see my diploma. In most interviews that I went on, the interviewer would ask if I had a degree but never asked me where from or what my GPA was. I do remember, though, right before graduate applying for job. In those cases, I did have to provide a transcript. Ever sine then, though, it has never really come up. So I started thinking... Is a College degree worth it? Is college worth the time, effort, and missed opportunities in today's world?
My daughter is a senior in high school this year. A couple of years ago, she got excited about photography and fashion. She got a part-time job at a clothing store but was fired after only a few months. So, she started her own company making shirts. Well, she designs unique apparel. Then, she sources out the manufacture of the apparel that she designs. She sells all of her shirts and hats through social media. She works just a couple hours per week, and she makes more money than she could working for an hourly wage as a teenager. She came up to me a while back with a shocker. She said, "Dad, if I go to college and study fashion, they are just going to teach me what everyone else has already done. I want to create my own stuff."
We had a number of long talks about this issue. She is concerned about both (1) the value of the education that she might receive at a university, and (2) the cost associated with the degree. "Dad, I can't see starting out my career $100K in debt," she told me.
So, after much debate, I decided to do more research on the subject and add to this article. Here is what I found based on 2018 financial information.
Cost Benefit Analysis of University Degree in 2018 (Is it Worth It?)
Keep in mind that I'm pulling data from sources on the web who seem to be credible. All I have done is but the data into an Excel spreadsheet. So, if you disagree with me, don't shoot the messenger. According to an article on The Balance website called Why a College Degree is Still Worth It, the average high school graduate makes $35,256. The average university graduate makes substantially more. They average $59,124 per year. That is an increase of $23,868. The article also states that the average cost for a four-year degree is a little over $80,000. The average student loan debt is about $35,000. (I'm using round numbers to make it easy.)
According to these numbers, a college degree, over a lifetime, is going to generate an additional $595,000 in income. This assumes that the student goes to a state school, graduates in four years, only finances half of the cost, and pays off the student loans in 10 years. That is the best case scenario based on the numbers from the article. If the student takes six years to graduate, goes to a private school, still only finances half of the cost, but takes 20 years to pay the debt off, the graduate would net an additional $300,000 over a 37 year career.
According to Student Debt Relief's website, the numbers are very similar. Their numbers show that the average four-year degree is $85,035, and the difference in income is just under $25,000 per year. So, using these numbers, the income benefit of the degree is between $298,000 and $605,000. The range again depends on how long it take to graduate, and how fast loans are paid.
Analyzing the True Cost of a College Degree.
According to these sources and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a degree looks like a good investment. That is... until you did a little deeper.
According to my spreadsheets, the average graduate doesn't breakeven until he or she is 42 years old. On the upside, the added income pays off the cost and debt of the degree by age 37. On the downside, some graduates don't break-even until the age of 49. For instance, if a student goes to a private university and takes six years to graduate, the total cost is $286,000. Assume that the student only financed half of that amount over 20 years. The total interest would be $103,000. So, the total cost is now $389,000. The student also missed out on working working full-time in that six years. Assuming that the average high school graduate income is accurate, that is an additional $224,000 in lost wages. ($37,336/yr X Six Years.) The new total cost for this scenario is $613,000.
If the average college graduate makes $24,500 extra per year, it would take 25 years to break even. Since it took six years to graduate, the student likely started working at 24 or 25. That means, that the student doesn't have any return on all of that work until he or she is 49 years old.
I'm 46 years old now. I'd be pissed! Some of the students today will have kids going to college before they ever break even on that college investment.
Should I Go to College?
I know that it sounds dreadful. But financially speaking, colleges and universities today are a bad risk. With that being said, though... Should I go to college? The answer is... It depends. If you want to me a doctor, or engineer, or school teacher, or architect, then yes. If you want to me a business owner, an artist, work in technology, or a service industry, probably not.
After doing all the research, I support my daughter's decision.