What Does A College Degree Really Get You In 2012?

Are degrees worth it?When Chelsea Schubart graduated from the University of Rhode Island last year, she seemed poised for success. She had racked up several academic honors, internships, and degrees in elementary education and psychology.

But a year later, the 23-year-old resident is working two part-time jobs, one of them at her mother's DJ-karaoke company. She also lives with her parents in New Jersey. And she counts herself lucky. "The jobs are scarce," says Schubart, whose other part-time job is as as a school aide in New Jersey. Neither of her gigs provides her with medical benefits. "No one I know has a full-time job in their chosen field."

In fact, recent college grads are facing one of the most punishing job markets in recent history. According to a survey released Thursday by Rutgers, just 51 percent of all those who have graduated college since 2006 are working in full-time jobs. The study was compiled from 444 graduates from across the country. One in ten of them are completely out of work and are not enrolled in any further schooling.

The goal of achieving financial independence remains out of reach for many college graduates, but the outlook is far more grim for the classes that have graduated after Lehman Brothers went bust in September 2008 and the economy collapsed. Among the Class of 2009, 2010 and 2011, 57 percent are still getting financial help from their family or someone else to meet basic daily needs.

The figure stood at 39 percent for the classes of 2006 and 2007.

Adding to the burdens of basic daily needs is the challenge of paying off student debt. As the study notes, in 2010 collective student loan debt surpassed $1 trillion, as well the money Americans owed in credit debt. At their graduation, 55 percent of the graduates owed an average of $20,000 to pay off their education.

The authors of the study say the report forces a reassessment on how Americans approach higher education.

"It's definitely still worth it," says Carl Van Horn, a professor of public policy at Rutgers and the Director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, which put together the study. "The return on investment is somewhere between three-quarters of a million dollars to $1.5 million dollars over a lifetime. The issue people need to think about is the cost of the university I am going to. What we need is informed choice."

For her part, Schubart doesn't think her education was a waste. In fact, she is planning to pursue a graduate degree, having been accepted to five-year doctoral program in psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.

As an undergrad, she says, "I was always doing research jobs with professors or subbing in schools so I could take advantage of the job market. I think like a teacher, so I plan ahead."

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