Was it really worth $80,000? In end, I hope to respond ‘yes’

New Orleans (Nov. 15, 2012) – As graduation approaches and Sallie Mae begins to make a regular appearance in my e-mail inbox, I have to ask myself, “Was it worth it?”

According to the Census Bureau, more Americans hold bachelor’s degrees than ever before. As a result, the number of college graduates in debt also has increased. Tuition is at an all-time high the rate at which a loan is expected to be paid back is doing the same.

Forbes magazine reports that the student loan debt has reached $1 trillion and counting. The fact more Americans are going to college is indeed a good thing. However, being in debt is something no one wants to be a part of, especially not me.

Since some jobs that make more than I would make as an entry-level journalist with my mass communication degree, I have begun to wonder, although they were extremely helpful, if those loans were a good investment in the first place.

Jobs such as a dental hygienist, which only requires a two-year associate’s degree, make an average $68,000 annually, according to Forbes’ “Best Jobs in Health Care”list. A paralegal assistant makes an annual income of about $47,000 a year. Of course, I realize these are not typical starting salaries and vary by region of the country.

The truth of the matter is a wide majority of college graduates end up working somewhere unrelated to their field of study, anyway. I am quite sure no one is majoring in customer service or receiving a degree in retail store associating. However, 80 percent of 19- to 30-year-olds who work in retail stores have bachelor’s degrees, according to Millennial Branding, the generation-Y research and management consulting firm.

It is a scary thought to think that I have almost completed four years at Dillard University only to work in a retail store for the rest of my life. Working in retail is nothing to be ashamed about; it simply just does not parallel with the hard work I have put in to be a graduate.

The average retail store associate makes an average $25,000 a year. My loans over the four years have accumulated to $80,000. In order to pay back Sallie Mae, I would have to work retail for four years and never spend money on anything else in order to repay my loans to attend this institution of higher learning. This is equivalent to the time I have spent in school earning a degree that should guarantee that I should never be in this predicament.

Conversely, I do believe my degree will open avenues of opportunity for me and my fellow classmates as we embark on a new journey.

Regardless of how many loans I may have to pay back, the question, “Was it worth it?” is answered with the applause from the crowd as my peers and I walk across the Kearny stage and shake Dr. Walter Kimbrough’s hand. “Yes, well worth it!”

Economists also agree that college is a good investment because of the widening of pay gaps between jobs that require a college degree and those that do not. This will increase the salaries of those with college degrees in order to offset the student debt.

Statistics should never discourage you from your dream. This is just an eye-opener for the graduates who are determined to change these statistics. The world is ours: Let’s claim it!