Is college worth it?

Iyla Shornstein (photo by Will Dendis)

In a matter of weeks, high school students in Saugerties will head back to school. At least half of them will be thinking about college. But unlike recent generations, the class of 2013 will hear a lot of discouraging things about college – that student debt is growing and the lackluster economy may not provide the job they’ll need to make the loan payments. For the first time in several decades, “college-for-all” as a K-12 aspiration is being called into question.

According to the nonprofit initiative The Project on Student Debt, unemployment for recent college graduates was 9.1 percent in 2010. The average student debt in New York State was $26,277, shared by almost two-thirds of undergraduates.

So what is the return on an investment in higher education? The more people that earn a bachelor’s degree, the less a mark of distinction it becomes, and in 2011 the Census Bureau reported that a record high 30 percent of U.S. adults 25-and-older have attained at least a bachelor’s degree. That number was less than 25 percent in 1998. Many consider the master’s degree to be the new bachelor’s, as competition for jobs grows fiercer.

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That said, college grads still fare much better overall in the job market than non-graduates, just as high school graduates do better than those without a diploma. In the first of a number of articles examining how things have changed for Saugerties 20-somethings, the Saugerties Times spoke with three locals about their college experiences.

 

Tales of woe among recent college grads, particularly of the liberal arts variety, are common. The result: unpaid internships, unskilled work to pay the bills, living with mom and dad, and regret.

But don’t tell that to Saugerties native Deidre Drewes, 25. Four days after graduating from SUNY New Paltz with a degree in journalism and public relations, Drewes was referred to a local employer by an advisor. Her interview went well, and she became a member of the increasingly select group of recent college graduates working in their chosen field.

For Drewes, her college degree certainly paid off. “I was fortunate that I was offered a job straight out of school in my industry.”

She attributes her early success to hard work. “I had to sit through that interview and I had to prove myself, and the reason why my professor referred me to [a potential employer] is because they saw me really go above and beyond.”

College connected Drewes to a job, but it didn’t necessarily prepare her for it. “A lot of what I did, I had to learn on my own,” she says. Her responsibilities included coordinating events and managing social media.

She had debt, but made enough money to move out of her parent’s house. Her job sent her all over the country. She had the life that prompts young people to go to college in the first place.

Then something happened.

“I had a quarter life crisis—my first of two. I realized that I wasn’t happy at the company I was working for. I wasn’t pushing myself far enough, and by living alone I was just kind of getting distracted by going out with friends and being around people who were less motivated, and I realized that if I kept doing what I was doing, I wasn’t going to go to the places I wanted to be. So on a Sunday afternoon, I quit my job, decided to move back home with my parents and to go back for my master’s degree.”

Suddenly Drewes’ circumstances resembled those of no small number of her peers, back home and between jobs.

 

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