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Is college really worth it anymore?

Posted at 3:00 PM, May 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-15 00:27:35-04

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DENVER — Graduation season is here. And for many high school seniors, it's also the season of discovering just how expensive college is.

The average cost of one year at a private university is now $42,000.  A college graduate is now finishing with an average of $37,000 of student loan debt that will take an average of 21 years to pay off.

With that in mind, this 360 explores whether college is really worth it anymore?

University of Colorado Denver undergraduate student Marcus Gallegos is on track to finish his master's degree in computer science in 2022.  He'll leave college with $65,000 in student loan debt.  

Even with an expected starting salary of $60,000, Gallegos is already feeling the longterm weight of the student loan millstone around his neck.  

"I'm thinking beyond repayment of loans. I'm thinking of buying a house. Am I going to have to repay my loans completely and then think about buying a home?", Gallegos asked.  "Am I going to be beholden to a landlord until I'm 42?"

The projected cost of higher education is even tougher consider.  Eighteen years from now, in-state public colleges are expected to cost $54,000 per year. In 18 years, a private school is expected to cost $121,000 per year.

University of Colorado Denver economics professor Andrew Friedman acknowledges the troubling trajectory but argues that college is still worth the price.  

"It may change. But for the moment, on average, I think it's worth it", Friedman said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics seems to back him up. The average salary for someone with a high school diploma is $35,256. The average salary for someone with a Bachelor's Degree is $59,124.

Denver is home to a relatively new approach to post-high school education called CareerWise. The nonprofit encourages high school students to explore what they really want to do.  

When they figure it out, CareerWise helps plot the training needed to get there whatever it is: electrician, veterinarian, spine surgeon or an airline pilot.

Noel Ginsburg is CEO of CareerWise and says if someone's passion is in a career that requires traditional college then traditional college it should be.  

But he says there are many different options for a rewarding career.  

"There's equal dignity in multiple paths," Ginsburg said.

Trade school is one such option. On average the total cost of a trade school is $33,000, and it takes 10-to-18 months to finish.  

Someone who finishes trade school has a job that pays on average $42,000 per year.  But a trade school-trained construction manager can easily earn more than $100,000 per year.  

A $100,000 per year job for a $33,000 education and probably very little school debt is certainly something to think about.