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Columbia Business Monthly

Six Figure College Debt: a Myth

Apr 06, 2018 03:08PM ● By Makayla Gay

By Dr. Carol A. Moore

President, Columbia College

   We can hardly read a newspaper or magazine without seeing a headline focused on college debt and the burden it imposes on students and their families. For example, Fast Company has posted a number of articles highlighting individuals with post-graduation debt in excess of $100,000. As a nation, we are asking ourselves whether a bachelor’s degree is worth the debt often incurred and whether a college degree is really a worthwhile investment. Despite the alarming headlines, the fact is that a bachelor’s degree is a desirable goal that a college student can attain without amassing significant debt.

South Carolinians especially may worry about accumulating college debt. Recently, Columbia Business Monthly reported that South Carolina is the second most expensive state for students attending a public college or university. Further, South Carolina ranks 8th in the nation of states with the highest percentage of student debt. At the same time, Penn GSE reports 28 percent of families in South Carolina earn $30,000 or less. Understandably, college seems unreachable to many in our state, yet an educated workforce is key to our state’s success.

Although South Carolina’s families, like families across the nation, often rely on student loans to pay for some or all college expenses, those loans help make affordable a very valuable commodity. According to U.S. student loan debt statistics for 2017, 66 percent of public college graduates had an average debt of $25,550, while 75 percent of private nonprofit college graduates had a debt of $32,300. This debt translates into an average monthly loan payment of $351.00 for a borrower between the ages of 20 and 30—less than the amount of a new car payment. Cars wear out and have to be replaced. A bachelor’s degree, in sharp contrast, enables a person to earn approximately $1 million dollars more than a high school graduate over the course of a lifetime.

And as if the financial benefits weren’t enough, according to a recent report in the “Chronicle of Higher Education,” a college degree is also a significant factor in social mobility. We know that college graduates live healthier, longer lives and are active, engaged citizens who contribute meaningfully to their communities.

While no one wants to see young graduates saddled with educational debt, it is a myth that their debt typically averages at or more than $100,000. At Columbia College, a private, four-year liberal arts college, the average debt for a graduate is just under $22,000. 96 percent of our graduates are employed within six months of graduation and begin realizing the benefits of their bachelor’s degree.

Each individual and family must weigh a $25,000 to $30,000 average debt against the numerous and significant benefits of earning a college degree, but the notion of a $100,000 debt is simply not accurate for the vast majority of graduates. Instead, a bachelor’s degree is more affordable than many people believe and provides unquestionable benefits for both graduates and the communities in which they live, work, and thrive.