The age-old adage that a good education is the key to success is being questioned by many young adults now. With the soaring costs of college education and the looming threat of student loan debts, the quintessential college dream seems to be losing its sheen. The Quora community recently buzzed with discussions on why many are doubting the worth of a college degree today when pitted against its price. 

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Key Takeaways:

  • College education costs have skyrocketed compared to previous generations, burdening students with hefty loans.
  • The assurance of securing a well-paying job post-graduation to counterbalance the education costs is dwindling.
  • While some argue the essence of college goes beyond academics, the financial calculus drives a wedge into the college aspiration for many.

Tackling the Tuition Hike

The escalating cost of tuition has become a major point in debates surrounding the value of a college education. According to a Quora user, a semester’s tuition cost them merely $188 during the 1970s at a prominent state university in Washington. The user blamed policy shifts in the 1980s for the current tuition crisis, stating,

 “In the 1980s, Republicans defunded public colleges and universities to give tax breaks to the wealthy, claiming it would “trickle down” to us peons.”

This reflection highlights a political angle to the tuition hike, suggesting that changes in government funding have directly impacted college affordability.

It’s a common economic principle that prices for goods and services generally rise over time, reflecting inflation, among other factors. However, the rate at which college tuition fees have surged goes beyond the typical pace of inflation. The soaring tuition and housing costs have collectively created a financial burden for today’s students, making a college education seem unaffordable without incurring significant debt. The user’s story illustrates the financial strain that modern-day students face, painting a bleak picture of college affordability. Another user reiterates the stark contrast between past and present: 

“College is very expensive today compared to when I was in college (1969–1973).”

These personal accounts and the glaring difference in tuition costs, even when accounting for normal price growth over time, underscore the pressing issue of college affordability in today’s economy amidst other varying factors. The dialogue hints at a deeper systemic issue that extends beyond the regular economic fluctuations, pushing the cost of education to a point where it becomes a significant source of financial stress for students and their families, thus making the dream of higher education unattainable for many.

The growth in tuition over the years has been a significant concern for many, especially prospective college students and their families. The data shows a substantial increase in tuition costs over the decades. In 1980, the average cost for a student attending a degree-granting public school in the U.S. was $1,856, and it was $10,227 for those attending private schools. By 2020, these figures had escalated to $9,403 and $34,059 for public and private institutions, respectively​​. This represents a tuition and fee increase of 1198.9% for public institutions and 231.82% for private institutions over a period of 40 years.

The Student Loan Snag

The menace of student loan debt is a harsh reality that haunts the discourse surrounding higher education among young adults. On Quora, one user straightforwardly highlights this concern, stating,

 “All they hear about is student loan debt. It is a legitimate fear, depending on your major…State colleges are financially the best bet.”

This comment not only accentuates the universal fear of debt but also brings into focus the importance of prudent decision-making regarding the choice of major and institution.

The discussion further unfolds the financial intricacies tied to student loans. The prevailing narrative suggests that the dread of enduring a long-term financial burden post-graduation is a deterrent for many considering a college degree. The financial aftermath of college is often viewed through the prism of debt, with the choice of major playing a key role in determining the return on investment. Another user echoes this sentiment by advising, 

“Don’t go to college unless you have a realistic expectation of making the money back.” 

The notion here is that the financial viability of a college education is dependent on the prospective earnings associated with the chosen field of study.

Additionally, the conversation sheds light on the comparative advantage of opting for state colleges as a financially savvy choice to mitigate the risks of overwhelming debt. The juxtaposition of state colleges against more expensive institutions encapsulates a broader reflection on the economic prudence behind college selection. The dialogues underline a collective apprehension towards the vicious cycle of student loans and the potential long-term repercussions on personal financial stability.

Moreover, the conversation extends beyond the individual to reflect on systemic issues. It hints at a larger narrative questioning the balance between the cost of education and the value it purportedly adds to personal and professional growth. As the controversy over student loan debt continues to be a hot topic, it mirrors a broader societal concern over the evolving dynamics of education, employment, and economic security.

Earnings Estimate Post-Education

The uncertainty surrounding post-graduation earnings is a significant factor in contemplating the value of a college education. In the Quora discussion, a user elaborates on the contrast between the earnings potential of college graduates and individuals who opt for skilled trades instead, underscoring a critical concern: the disparity between the investment in education and the subsequent return in terms of earnings. They mention,

“Many college graduates do not find living-wage employment…a high school graduate can take up a skilled trade and begin earning a living wage right away without incurring student loan debt.”

The discussion further unfolds the perception of job market instability, even for those with a degree. The user points out that many graduates find themselves in unstable employment situations, resorting to “side hustles” to cover basic expenses and commence loan repayments. This reflects a growing apprehension among young adults regarding the assurance of financial stability post-graduation despite the hefty investment in a college education.

Moreover, the dialogue on Quora also touches upon the necessity of further education or graduate school to secure living-wage employment, which could potentially exacerbate the financial strain through additional tuition costs and delayed entry into the workforce. The user’s comment resonates with a common concern among young adults regarding the escalating requirements to secure decent employment and the ensuing financial implications.

Is College Worth the Price Today? The Debate Rages On
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The discussion also examines a comparative analysis between traditional college education and alternative pathways like skilled trades. The user suggests that a high school graduate engaging in a skilled trade can start earning a living wage promptly without the burden of student loans, thereby gaining a financial head-start. This perspective challenges the conventional wisdom surrounding the superiority of a college degree for financial and career success.

Furthermore, the discussion subtly hints at a broader societal narrative concerning the evolving definitions of success and financial stability. The testimonials and insights shared on Quora depict a scenario where the traditional route of college education is being critically evaluated for its financial viability and long-term return on investment. Amidst a landscape of soaring tuition fees and uncertain job markets, the conversation emphasizes a shift in perception, encouraging a more nuanced deliberation on the diverse pathways to achieving financial security and career fulfillment post-education.

The Counter-Argument

Amidst the prevalent skepticism surrounding the cost and value of college education, there emerges a counter-argument in the Quora discussion suggesting certain scenarios where a college education may be worth the investment. One user suggests, “a degree from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford or a public Ivie in something like CS may be worth the money.”

This viewpoint posits that the prestige, networking opportunities, and enhanced career prospects associated with top-tier institutions could potentially outweigh the financial burden entailed.

The discussion further spreads to reveal a historical perspective. Another user mentions the post-WWII era, where there was a “desperate need for educated labor,” leading to a significant emphasis on higher education. The person suggests that the competitive advantage provided by a college degree during that period propelled a wave of college attendance, which drove up tuition costs over time as demand soared. This historical narrative provides a backdrop to the contemporary discourse, illustrating how past societal needs and policies might have contributed to the present-day tuition crisis.

Furthermore, the debate extends to analyzing the modern-day dynamics of college education, highlighting the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. The same user elaborates on the systematic efforts to “fleece the young and naive with high interest rate government-backed and private student loans,” portraying a grim picture of a system designed to entrap students in a cycle of debt. However, despite these challenges, the user acknowledges that some still see value in college education due to the potential competitive edge it may offer in the job market.

The counter-argument also touches upon the media and societal narratives that celebrate the success stories of college graduates, especially from prestigious institutions, while often overshadowing the financial struggles many others endure. The discussion suggests that these narratives and the showcased success stories may contribute to perpetuating the allure of a college education despite the stark financial realities.

Moreover, the discourse subtly hints at the entrenched belief in the transformative power of education as a social mobility vehicle. However, the counter-argument posits that the modern-day financial hurdles associated with college education may have tainted this ideal, especially for individuals from less affluent backgrounds.


In today’s economic situation, the debate over the value of a college degree is nuanced and deep. While the expense of education has definitely risen, the question of whether the prospective benefits warrant the expenditure remains open. As these significant decisions are made by young adults, the discussion highlights a larger reflection on the changing ethos of education and success in modern society.


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