Is Higher Education Worth The Cost

The dawning of a new year is often a time of reflection, the time people make changes or set new goals. As 2020 begins, I am thinking about the countless headlines in recent years questioning the value of higher education. I think of how college enrollment is down nationwide – primarily because Generation Z is smaller than the millennial generation. And, I think about the time and effort I spend encouraging people to pursue a college education.

The more I explore this question, the more confident I become that higher education is worth it, especially here at Dalton State where we remain one of the most affordable institutions in the nation.

While no one can predict the future for an individual, every study I have seen indicates people with more education often earn more than people with less education.

In Georgia, a person 25 years or older without a high school diploma earned approximately $22,000 in 2017, compared to more than $29,000 for a high school graduate (or equivalency). Someone with at least some college or an associate degree earned more than $35,000 on average but those who had a bachelor’s degree earned nearly $52,000.

Furthermore, people with more education are less likely to be unemployed or under-employed during a recession. One author recently stated higher education is the ONLY factor that interrupts the poverty cycle for a family.

Unfortunately, the lower the socioeconomic status of individuals, the less likely they are to earn a college credential. One national report indicates, in fact, fewer than one third of the students who were in the lowest socioeconomic level in ninth grade were enrolled or had completed college within three years of completing high school, compared to nearly 80% of the students who were in the top socioeconomic level in ninth grade.

This is why affordability and accessibility matter. This is why we work diligently to contain the cost of a quality college degree at Dalton State.

What is particularly eye-opening is when we combine demographic trends with this information.

In 2017, only 22% of Latinos 25 years or older in Georgia held an associate degree or higher, compared to 32% for people who are black and 43% for people who are white. If we do not manage to achieve better higher education outcomes for people of color, the economic vitality of Georgia (particularly outside Atlanta and specifically our region) looks grim.

Another study highlights the disparities of educational attainment for more rural areas of Georgia compared to metropolitan areas and among various races. Whitfield County has fewer residents with at least an associate degree than most other counties in the state.

This is why I am proud of the Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) designation and our graduation rates with our Latino students, who graduate at a higher rate than our overall student population.

Those headlines questioning the value of higher education often cite the increased cost of higher education and the burden of student loan debt among college graduates. These stories grab my attention as they do everyone’s. What few of these articles mention is the viability of a higher ed credential from a high-quality affordable college like Dalton State.

In-state tuition and fees for fulltime students at Dalton State are $4,246 per year. While that is a considerable investment, it is substantially less than most other institutions, and two-thirds of our students receive financial assistance. Nearly 70% of our graduates have no student loan debt. And they are obtaining positions and filling workforce needs in Northwest Georgia. 

While some might equate a more expensive education with a higher quality institution, the savvy consumer realizes most employers care more about whether an employee can perform their job duties than they do about the amount of money spent on college. This is why we are in close contact with the local employers in a variety of career fields within our region, and it is also why we encourage students to secure hands-on experiences in their career field prior to graduation. We know hard and soft skills are more important to obtaining a job than a high-priced education. And we know Northwest Georgia is counting on us to develop the future workforce that will help our community to thrive in the years to come.