Is college worth your money? Poll numbers tell mixed story

The unsettling mood of the economy matched with surging tuition costs and a unified need for financial aid reform prompts us to ask the question: Is going to college worth your money?

It seems fewer Americans are beginning to think so, but that hasn't stopped enrollment numbers from rising.

According to a Country Financial survey, the number of Americans who believe college is a good financial investment fell from 80% to 64% in 2009. That's a pretty big drop considering that roughly the same number believed it was a good investment just the year before.

These beliefs about higher education correspond with a change in saving priorities. According to the same survey, 43% of Americans say their own retirement is more important than saving for their child's college, a 2 point increase from last year, while 41% believe saving for their child's college is more important than saving for their retirement, a 6 point drop from last year. Even more are confused: 17% say they are unsure about what's more important: a 4 point increase from last year, according to the survey.

Despite this shift in sentiments, however, scholars still believe that a college education is valuable. Randy Proto of the Huffington Post recently wrote: "A college degree is valuable both to individuals and to society. On that, there is widespread agreement."

"But if people can't afford it, what's the point? That's why we must address this critical issue," Proto continued.

It seems quite a lot of students agree. Despite the results of the recent survey, more Americans enroll in college every year. The enrollment increase occurred mostly in community colleges, trade schools, and larger public universities, which tend to have more relaxed acceptance requirements and less expensive tuition rates. The figures show that first year enrollment numbers climbed 6% in 2008, to a record 2.6 million. It's the highest college enrollment has been in the last 40 years (Pew Social Trends).

This means, that despite the overwhelming feeling that college is not a good investment, more Americans are enrolling in less expensive schools. Could the problem merely be the swelling cost of tuition?

I think so. But that is another can of worms.

Solution: Research Your Options

From a personal point of view, I think students need to stay informed and really consider their options. I certainly question my own decisions: with a mountain of debt after attending a private out-of-state school, I've often wondered if I should've taken a different (and less expensive) path to get to same place.

I could have stayed in state, where my parents would've paid for my tuition, and I'd probably still have an English degree with a philosophy minor. Or I could have looked into a different career -- one that doesn't require a pricey college degree and still allows me to live comfortably without an albatross of debt.

Of course, that's the sliding door of life and for my own sanity, I try not to regret past decisions too much. But for those of you researching colleges, going to school at a low cost or forging a career path without a degree is definitely something to consider.

Next week I'll post a list of the 10 highest paying jobs you can qualify for without a college degree, so stay tuned.
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