Thursday, June 17, 2010

Again, Happy not to Be Average

The more I hear about student debt, the more I’ve got to consider how lucky I am, I suppose.

The folks over at tell us that the average student debt per bachelor’s degree issued is $12,400 in 2008, up from $10,600 in 2000. Sixty-eight percent of the graduates in Idaho had student loans to pay off when they graduate.

It’s even worse for those with a graduate degree – the cumulative debt for a person with a masters degree, Kiplinger says, is $40,208.

To me, that’s unfathomable. I’ll tell you why:

When I graduated from the University of Idaho with a bachelors degree in journalism and mass communication in 1997, I had $1,500 in student debt, which I was able to pay off within a year of graduating.

When I graduated from Utah State University with a masters degree in English with an emphasis on technical writing, I didn’t have any student debt at all.

I did not get much by way of grants or scholarships – less than $3,000 for the undergraduate degree and nothing at all for the graduate degree. The rest of the money came from me working summers and during the year to pay for my bachelors degree and having a full-time job while earning the masters degree. I paid cash for all but $1,500 of my education.

I didn’t go to fancypants colleges. U of I was middle of the road, quality-wise. USU’s technical writing program, however, is highly regarded – but still, at a school that doesn’t call for top dollar for the education it offers.

My wife is now enrolled in the same masters program I was, and though tuition prices have gone up considerably, it still appears we’ll be able to get her degree by paying cash for it – our only bonus being since I completed the program just recently, it’s likely she can re-use many of the textbooks I already have.

I’m not the brightest person in the world, so it stands to reason – another college from which I have a degree – that others can replicate what I accomplished. And it looks like some have – Kiplinger says for a MS degree, only about half of those who earn a degree end up borrowing money to pay for it. I’m happy to be in the half that didn’t have to do any borrowing.

I didn’t live like a king during my undergraduate years – mostly, I lived on campus. The one year I lived off-campus, it was fairly Spartan. For my masters degree, I chose a program that was entirely online, so I could work full-time and take my classes when I wasn’t on the job. That was the only way I could have done it – moving from Idaho to Utah to attend school would have been impossible, given the current job climate (I started the degree in 2007, or about a year before the economy went into the ashcan.)

You hear some on the news lately telling people a degree just isn’t worth the money any more. I have to beg to differ. It’s worth the money if you’re careful how you go about earning it. And while the masters degree I have won’t amount to more money from the current job I have, it does open doors – in fact, I’ve got the opportunity now to teach as an adjunct faculty member at a local university, just because of that piece of paper. We’ll see what comes of that.

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