Is a College Degree Worth the Student Debt?

People all around the country are struggling with the burden of student debt, and with collective student loan debt at an all-time high, many people are asking themselves: is this really worth it? On one hand, there is value in a college education, especially when it comes to navigating employment prospects. But on the other hand, so many individuals are struggling to work their way out of the debt that their degree put them in, that it may not even seem worth it to have made the investment in the first place. For anyone struggling to balance the tradeoffs, here is a comprehensive guide to help weigh the value of a college degree against the debt that comes with it.


This will probably come as no surprise but attaining a college education can make a meaningful difference relative to only having a high school diploma. It can impact your likelihood of being hired, your pay rate, and you overall lifetime earnings:

  • College graduates are 2x more likely to find employment compared to only high school graduates
  • College graduates have a ~60% higher pay rate compared to only high school graduates
  • College graduates have ~$800,000 more in lifetime earnings compared to only high school graduates

It is clear that possessing a college degree relative to a high school diploma can reap significantly higher returns when it comes to post-graduation employment. The question then becomes: at what cost?


Ultimately, the cost of a college degree boils down to the student debt that comes with it. While some students can afford to pay for their college education (either through direct payment or various scholarships), many students need to take on federal and/or private student loans to cover the cost burden of their education. Student loan debt is currently at an all-time high:

  • Collective student loan debt now exceeds $1 trillion
  • Average total debt is ~$24,000 for a four-year college graduate
  • There has been a 300% rise in student debt in the last 8 years alone

On top of this, student debt is not just limited to that from student loans. Credit card debt is on the rise, with median debt at around $3,000 for college undergraduates. Because of the heavy burden of debt, a very meaningful number of undergraduates are choosing to drop out because this is too much for them to take on.


Given the financial struggles that college education is bringing, having a degree of financial literacy would be extremely helpful for individuals trying to work their way out of debt. To the contrary, however, individuals around the country are struggling with even the basics. 84% of college undergraduates say they need more financial management education, and less than half of teens know how to actually use a credit card. This lack of knowledge is hardly setting up individuals for financial success at a time when they most need it.


At the end of the day, which route do you choose? Get your degree but struggle in debt, or forego college education and struggle with employment prospects? There is not necessarily one right answer, as it depends largely on your personal financial position and resources. But in an ideal world, you should try to get a college education if you feel you can reasonably pay off your debt.