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Value of a College Education — What's a College Degree Worth? 

Friday, November 23, 2007

We've talked a lot about the cost of college in previous blog entries, but we don't want you to forget about the value of a college education. Unless you happen to be Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg and develop a billion dollar company in your dorm room at Harvard, getting a college degree is likely a good investment.

College Graduates make more money

For those of you focused on dollars and cents, we won't mince words about the value of college. In pure financial terms, college graduates make nearly 80% more money per year than high school graduates. According to the U.S. Census, adults 25 and over with a college degree earned an average of $56,740 in 2006 compared to only $31,664 for those with only a high school degree. If you're thinking about getting even more education than a bachelor's degree, adults 25 and older with an advanced degree (Masters, Professional, or Doctorate) earned an average of $80,417. That's pretty good money.

Take a look at the Value of College Calculator on the College Toolkit website to run some of your own numbers and calculate the value of a college degree.

A College Degree Leads to More Than Just Money

For some of you, it may not be all about the money (although you may not be against a well-paying job). That's fine. In fact, we think that's great that you're thinking about more than just the bottom line. As it turns out, getting a college degree carries with it a number of additional benefits as well.

1. Lower Unemployment Rates

You're less likely to find yourself unemployed if you have a college degree. According the Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for college graduates was 2.3%. For high school graduates, the unemployment rate was 4.3%. So a college degree doesn't just mean more money, it means you are less likely to be without a paycheck.

2. Better Benefits

A college degree tends to lead to jobs with better benefits, including better health coverage and pension plans. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that employees with bachelors degrees were more likely to be covered by employer-provided health insurance than high school graduates (67% of college graduates were covered compared to 51% for high school graduates). And this gap has been growing over the last few decades.

The numbers are pretty much the same when you look at pension plans. About two-thirds of employees with college degrees are offered employee-sponsored pension plans while just over half with a high school degree receive this same benefit. This may make life more difficult for high school graduates when they retire (or it may mean they need to work longer before they can retire).

3. Greater Job Mobility

Spend some time looking at job postings in your local newspaper. We bet a lot of them require a college degree to be considered. I doubt you'll find any that say high school graduates only... no college graduates considered. College graduates tend to have more career opportunities available to them, meaning they are less likely to be locked into a job they don't like. Don't underestimate the importance of having this ability to transition to a new job or even a new career.

These are just a few of the benefits of a college degree. College graduates are more likely to have better working conditions (e.g, indoors with air conditioning and heating). They're children are more likely to go to college as well. They are even more likely to have leisure activities and hobbies like playing sports or going to museums.

So what are you waiting for? Start your college search!

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Private Student Loans a Larger Share of Education Finance Pie 

Friday, November 16, 2007

So, by now, you know all too well that college costs are growing at a pretty rapid clip... by over 6% at both public and private 4-year colleges this year. So how have college-bound students and their parents been dealing with this increase in tuition. It turns out that the most common method has been private loans. Unfortunately, taking out a private student loan is the most costly way to finance a college education (except for credit cards, but we hope none of you are putting your tuition bill on your credit card).

Over the last 10 years, federal aid programs for undergraduates have grown by an average of 5.6% a year, according to the College Board. Not too bad... the federal government seems to have been chipping in some extra dough for students to go to college over the last decade. However, over that same period, private loans used to finance a college education have grown at a rate of more than 25% a year, according to the College Board.

We don't want to harp on the negatives too much, but some of the most generous federal programs have actually taken major hits the past 2 years. Pell grants and Perkins Loans, which are targeted at the lowest-income students, have actually been declining since 2005. The most recent student loan legislation will help reverse some of these trends, though, by providing significant increases in Pell grant funding over the next 5 years.

Private student loan debt is still going to be a reality for most college-bound students and their parents (unless you attend one of the handful of schools moving toward no-loan aid packages).

How to Minimize Private Loan Debt

1. Recognize that not all loans are created equal
You want to make sure you take advantage of all the federal and state loan programs before you venture into the world of private student loans. These government-sponsored programs almost always offer better interest rates and more favorable terms than private lenders. For Perkins and subsidized Stafford loans, the government covers the interest payments while you're in school, which can make a big difference.

Learn more about the effects of interest and capitalization on your monthly loan payments using our Loan Capitalization Calculator.

2. Exhaust other financing options
Make sure that you take advantage of all the other financing opportunities out there. Don't forget to do a scholarship search to uncover relevant awards. You might also want to consider a part-time job while you're in school to help reduce your private student loan burden.

3. Create a realistic budget and stick to it
We know that you want to have fun while you're in school, but make sure your spending isn't getting out of hand. While a private lender will let you take out a student loan to help cover tuition and additional college-related expenses, remember that you're going to have to pay this money back down the road... with interest. You should consider ways that you can lower your expenses. For example, living on campus may be an option worth considering since you will likely only pay 9 months of rent (vs. committing to a 12-month lease for an off-campus apartment).

4. Be an educated consumer
Don't just go with the private lender that sends you the best brochure. Take the time to see what options are available to you. We offer a free tool to help you compare student loans. Some lenders will tell you about all the great borrower benefits that they have. Take a step back, read the fine print, and ask questions. Sure, a private lender may offer an interest rate reduction after 36 on-time payments, but find out what percentage of borrowers actually make that many on-time payments. What happens if you miss a payment or two? What are the origination and application fees? What happens if you need a deferment?

While we hope you are able to finance your education without private loans, your education is an investment in your future and it may be necessary to take out private student loans as part of this investment. Keep in mind that private student loans are not free money. Make sure you are responsible and do your homework.

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2008 U.S News College Rankings: The Great Debate Rages On 

Friday, November 9, 2007

A few months back, the 2008 U.S. News College Rankings were released. Princeton topped this year's list, edging out Harvard and Yale. As usual, the release of the U.S. News rankings sparked considerable debate about whether they help or hurt students' efforts to find colleges that are a good fit.

Some argue that high school seniors get caught up worrying about where a college is ranked rather than focusing on their own preferences and finding a college that matches these preferences.

Proponents counter that the U.S. News college rankings can be used as one of many tools to help high school seniors and their parents assess the quality of colleges.

How You Can Effectively Use College Rankings

We do not recommend basing your college decision solely on the U.S. News College Rankings or any other ranking system (unless you've devised your own personal ranking system). However, these rankings can often have significant value for you in your research. If you take some time to look beyond the actual ranking of a college and look into the underlying data, you can uncover some very useful information.

First, these rankings can often serve as a quick barometer for how competitive a college will be to get into. The top colleges on the list will generally be the most selective colleges in the U.S. Colleges further down are generally a little easier to get into. That can be a huge help as you start narrowing down the list of colleges you want to apply to. You should be thinking about whether a college is a reach, a good fit, or a safety school. You ideally want to have a school or two in each of these categories when you are applying to colleges.

Second, the U.S. News College Rankings, as well as other rankings, often provide quick snippets of data in a single location on a number of colleges. The U.S. News College Rankings can be a useful place to go to find SAT Scores for the 25th and 75th percentiles of the incoming freshman class. The Washington Monthly does their own college ranking, scoring colleges on what they are "doing for the country". These rankings provide interesting data for students who might be interested in ROTC or public service. You can find out which colleges have the most graduates go on to serve in the Peace Corps or which university work-study programs have the most money going to community-service efforts.

Finally, a major bi-product of rankings efforts is that they encourage colleges to share information. The Common Data Set, an effort to standardize data reporting and data sharing by colleges, was largely a result of the proliferation of college rankings. All college-bound students have benefited from this data being more readily available.

Create Your Own College Ranking System

We've created a tool that allows you to come up with your own college ranking system. Our College Scorecard lets you to decide what criteria are important to you and then allows you to rank up to 4 colleges using these criteria. You'll end up with your own personal college rankings... which are the best college rankings of all!

U.S. News College Rankings - Top 50 Colleges with Links to their College Profiles

1. Princeton University (Private)
2. Harvard University (Private)
3. Yale University (Private)
4. Stanford University (Private)
5. California Institute of Technology (Private)
5. University of Pennsylvania (Private)
7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Private)
8. Duke University (Private)
9. Columbia University (Private)
9. University of Chicago (Private)
11. Dartmouth College (Private)
12. Cornell University (Private)
12. Washington University in St. Louis (Private)
14. Brown University (Private)
14. Johns Hopkins University (Private)
14. Northwestern University (Private)
17. Emory University (Private)
17. Rice University (Private)
19. University of Notre Dame (Private)
19. Vanderbilt University (Private)
21. University of California-Berkeley (Public)
22. Carnegie Mellon University (Private)
23. Georgetown University (Private)
23. University of Virginia (Public)
25. University of California-Los Angeles (Public)
25. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (Public)
27. University of Southern California (Private)
28. Tufts University (Private)
28. University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (Public)
30. Wake Forest University (Private)
31. Brandeis University (Private)
31. Lehigh University (Private)
33. College of William and Mary (Public)
34. New York University (Private)
35. Boston College (Private)
35. Georgia Institute of Technology (Public)
35. University of Rochester (Private)
38. University of California-San Diego (Public)
38. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Public)
38. University of Wisconsin-Madison (Public)
41. Case Western Reserve University (Private)
42. University of California-Davis (Public)
42. University of Washington (Public)
44. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Private)
44. University of California-Irvine (Public)
44. University of California-Santa Barbara (Public)
44. University of Texas-Austin (Public)
48. Pennsylvania State University-University Park (Public)
49. University of Florida (Public)
50. Syracuse University (Private)
50. Tulane University (Private)

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