What makes a college ‘worth the money’?

A survey by a website that evaluates higher education choices has listed an area college on its list of colleges that aren’t worth the money.

In doing so, StartClass.com might rekindle an old debate: What is higher education all about, anyway? Is it for a big payday at a career, or shaping a more well-rounded individual?

StartClass chooses the former; its list evaluates the cost of a four-year degree against the median salaries for an institution’s alumni. Twenty-two of the 25 schools on the list reported six-year median salaries less than the median high school completion salary of $30,000.

The liberal arts Macalester College in St. Paul ranked #15. The six-year median salary of graduates is $28,400; the 10-year median is $45,700. Tuition is about $16,000 more than the average tuition at Minnesota private four-year colleges, and $30,000 more than the average Minnesota college. But the Macalester grad earns slightly less than both, the survey claims.

Anthropologists at Macalester are doing their part, though. Average starting salary for Macalester grads in the program is about $80,000. Graduates with global and international studies degree start at about $40,000.

At the same time, however, StartClass ranks Macalester at #16 on its list of best liberal arts schools in the country.

  • MrE85

    The schools I hate are the usually for-profit community and online colleges that saddle students with loans and give them credits and or certificates that are not transferable to legit universities and programs. That’s really not worth the money.

  • Joe

    Yeah if the measurement is post-grad earnings, Macalester is never going to compete with some other schools around here. St. Thomas pulls in and churns out tons of business-oriented folks, who are going to be making money. Macalester attracts and graduates a different crowd. If I am an 18-year old who desires to work at a non-profit, I know I won’t make much money, so seeing that Macalester graduates don’t make a lot wouldn’t faze me.

  • Gary F

    Macalester, where parents successful at capitalism send their kids to become socialists.

  • Tim

    Anecdotally, I know two Mac grads and they both are doing pretty well for themselves. One is making well above the ten-year median and I’m pretty sure the other is making at least a little more too.

    Also, as the site notes, most students attending are getting financial aid. It would be nice if it were possible to see what the average student pays after grants, scholarships, and such (i.e. the amount they need to pay out of pocket or with loans). Depending on one’s situation, it can be less expensive in the end to go to a school with a higher sticker price, but more generous financial aid opportunities, than one that is less expensive but where the assistance is less.

  • lindblomeagles

    Have to thank Bob for posting this. In general, given our changing economic times, many private, for-profit, and state provided colleges are over-charging students. Even if you graduate with the RIGHT degree for the RIGHT career field from a college or university that regularly places graduates in the RIGHT jobs afterwards, students still have to compete with several other students and workers with more accomplished experience. Back in the 1970s, the probability of walking into a great job/career from an inexpensive AND expensive college was high. Today, that’s just not the case.

  • Brian Simon

    Money is easy to measure & therefore becomes a proxy for many things. It has taken me a long time to learn to lower the priority of money in favor of time, happiness, lowered stress & increased satisfaction with life. Having said that, it’s a reasonable place to begin when evaluating higher education. There’s certainly not much sense in amassing a huge debt if you don’t also acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to pay off the debt.

  • Mark in Ohio

    To my eye, the argument for college being to create a more rounded individual only works when the student is able to afford college and to make a living simultaneously. Given the price of college today, that’s a pretty small pool of people. If you have to borrow money for it, you have to justify it in terms of payback. The measure shouldn’t really be how much you make in absolute terms, but a relative measure of payback on your investment. Not everyone wants to do the tasks that have the highest payback in absolute terms. Other than people taking classes in their spare time, I don’t know anyone today who is in school for reasons other than to be able to get a job or a better job.

    I won’t make a blanket statement that schools are overcharging (some are, some aren’t), but I do believe that many are over-selling the payback of their majors. Students have been told for too long that they need to do what they are passionate about and that their passion will make them successful. In today’s terms, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    • Jack

      The advice I gave our son is to find an area that he can work in for the next 40 years while making enough money to live a comfortable life.

      In other words, making gobs of money but being miserable in one’s career is not the way go. Make a reasonable amount of money in an area that you love.

      I work with a host of folks with liberal arts degrees in the business world. They have a much different perspective on issues than I do with a business degree.

  • ec99

    My sister graduated from Mac in 1963; things have changed a lot since then. She was required to take courses in Old and New Testament and attend chapel each week, even though she was majoring in English. Kofi Annan was a classmate.

  • Jeff C.

    I once heard the President of Macalester say that of all the schools in Minnesota, private and public, colleges and universities, Macalester students graduate with the lowest average debt of all of them – even the U of M. This is because Macalester gives a lot of GRANTS, not just LOANS. StartClass.com is probably looking at the “sticker price” of Macalester, which most students don’t pay. Every time Macalester increases tuition, they increase their financial aid budget a larger percentage (i.e. if tuition goes up 3%, the financial aid budget goes up 4% because they know that students who didn’t need aid in the past will need it now). Looking at the sticker price is silly because all colleges are pressured to have a high sticker price since the general population equates price with quality. Is Macalester worth the price? In my opinion, absolutely. (Sorry to come to the converstaion late!)