Busting College Myths

Reports of the growing burden of student loan debts that cripple graduates throughout their young adulthood are becoming more common and leading many to question the affordability of attending college. 

Even after accounting for inflation, one estimate I recently read suggests the cost of college attendance (on average) has roughly doubled in the past 30 years. Information like this causes many to reconsider whether college makes sense for them and their families.

Cost of attendance varies greatly across colleges and universities. Seeing higher costs and hearing discouraging remarks about the lack of affordability of college leads potential students to question: is college still a good return on investment of time and money? Is the quality of a degree correlated with cost of attendance?

The idea attending college always results in student loan debt is a myth, and it is not the only one. Here are some of the most common myths associated with the cost of attending college.

MYTH: Graduates leave college with large student loan debts due to the high cost of obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

REALITY: The cost of a college education varies greatly and Dalton State is one of the most affordable four-year colleges in the nation. Although most of our students work at least part-time, nearly two thirds of our graduates last fall completed their degrees without student loans.

MYTH: The quality of a bachelor’s degree is directly proportional to cost of attendance at a college or university.

REALITY: Dalton State is ranked among the top colleges in the U.S. for return on investment by Business Insider. We provide an excellent value in terms of academic rigor and preparation for employment. If money is no object, then attending an expensive college/university may make sense. But for most families, accumulating significant debt to attend a well-known college/university will not be a good return on investment, especially at the undergraduate level.

The future earnings prospects for graduates in the corresponding career field should be examined when considering the cost of attendance. How many years will it take the graduate to pay back the student loans and how feasible is the repayment plan given the salary and employment prospects?

MYTH: Large universities offer higher quality academic programs than smaller two-year or four-year colleges.

REALITY: Universities, by definition, offer graduate and undergraduate degrees. Programs at smaller public colleges typically are less costly. I believe smaller colleges like Dalton State offer better opportunities for undergraduate students by focusing on undergraduate education.

Dalton State students have more access to faculty and staff due to our small class sizes and emphasis on teaching. Our students are more likely to be able to ask questions during their classes and visit their professors outside of class. Our students are more likely to serve in leadership roles on campus and be known by name across campus. Our STEM majors have more direct access to state-of-the-art equipment than undergraduates at research-focused universities. And students have many opportunities to participate in hands-on research at Dalton State. Similarly, our students are encouraged (required in some majors) to apply their classroom knowledge in a real-world setting. 

MYTH: Large universities offer students better preparation for their careers than smaller two-year or four-year colleges.

REALITY: Because we are in close contact with local employers and our faculty know their students, Dalton State can often help match students in appropriate career fields with paid internships or other service-learning activities. Our students are readily employed, often even before graduation. If they choose to continue their education, our students have successfully completed graduate degrees at top universities. Many employers in our community tell us they actively seek our graduates to hire.

MYTH: Colleges and universities with competitive athletics teams, particularly NCAA Division I, offer higher quality college experiences for students.

REALITY: Everyone enjoys being on or associated with a winning team and that can certainly draw students to a college or university, but the quality of the academic credential is NOT tied to the institution’s investment in their athletic program or the success of the teams.

So why do so many institutions, including Dalton State, offer athletic programs? While I do not believe athletics make us a higher quality academic institution, activities such as intercollegiate competitions provide healthy extracurricular activities for all students and additional opportunities to strengthen relationships with their classmates. Also, these sports attract some students who might not attend college otherwise.

Clearly, I believe in the value of education. I have devoted my entire career to higher education. As a student, I attended both public and private institutions, highly selective and less selective. I found each of these to be an excellent investment of my time and money. It worked out well for me. But I never encourage people to take on significant loans to attend an expensive college/university with “name recognition.” There are affordable, high-quality opportunities to earn a college degree. Dalton State is one of the very best!