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  • Writer's pictureDavid H. Kinder, RFC®, ChFC®, CLU®

Have you "financially underwritten" your chosen degree program?

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

Throughout the presidential campaign, we've heard about the "student loan epidemic", right? That college and university degrees are "just too expensive" and college should become a "free fundamental right" (at least that's the campaign rhetoric I seem to remember).

One thing we can certainly agree on, is that the cost of college tuition has escalated sharply. College costs typically rise at TWICE the rate of inflation. That part is not within our control.

With that said... does that mean that college is a waste of money? NOT AT ALL! It could just be that your chosen degree program... is one that won't have much economic opportunity, outside of being a professor teaching that program to others. This part is completely within our control. If the resources are going to be spent, we need to do a decent job of choosing a program... that will lead to a decent job or other economic opportunities.

This article in "The Economist" talks about the problems and the solutions:

So, how can we do a better job of "financially underwriting" a degree program?

1. Realize that expensive college courses is probably not a wise use of resources to "try to find yourself". If you want to "find yourself", I would suggest trying to "lose yourself" in the service of others. Join the peace corps, the military, or do missionary service. For a cultural comparison, those in Israel are required to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces (Yes, women too) for a period of time. At the very least, if you want to "try" some courses, I'd try them at a cheaper community college.

2. If you try to "follow your dream and the money will follow"... you might be following for a long time. I suggest having an economic basis in reality to help you make such career decisions. And the government will help you to do exactly that! The Bureau of Labor Statistics has an "Occupational Outlook Handbook" that is fully searchable online to help you determine the future demand and anticipated income from various jobs. It will also tell you the anticipated required minimum educational requirements, so you can spend tuition money WISELY.

Here's an obvious comparison: A study of "underwater basket-weaving" probably won't have nearly the same economic outlook as an engineer.

You can search out the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook here:

3. Perhaps you can get a job within your sphere of passion, and let it lead you to other bigger and better things. This was essentially what I did, and perhaps that kind of "lack of career planning" and "failing forward" may be going the way of The Dodo. It seems that this may be available if you start with other family members who give you a real shot at their business, and then you can leverage that experience into other avenues.

In any event, either you, your parents, or taxpayers (Pell grants come from federal funds and therefore default to being from taxpayers) are paying for your educational pursuits. Even and especially if you have a scholarship, that college is expecting great things from you, so you can "pay it forward" through Alumni contributions in the future. I think every student owes themselves, their parents, and taxpayers to choose a degree program that will help you and contribute to your country's economic prosperity. The more personal it is, the more I would hope you take all of that into consideration as you choose your program of study.

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