Is the cost of college worth it as the average debt continues to rise?

(WKEF/WRGT) -- As the cost of college continues to rise, more students are leaving with debt. Today 7 out of 10 college students borrow money to get through school, and the average debt is more than $30,000. So, we dug in to find out if college is still worth the money it costs.


The answer is yes, college is worth it, but it's not so straightforward.

"I think that model where somebody goes to school for four years and then they're done for the rest of their life is a model whose time has passed," says Adam Murka with Sinclair Community College. "The most important things in today's economy is you have to have skills." Murka says that doesn't mean a 4-year degree today. He says any level of high education will set you ahead.

"The difference in earnings between people who have credentials and have skills versus the people who don't is striking," says Murka." That gap is only going to grow."

Looking at data given to us by Sinclair Community College, new research shows the higher your level of degree the more money you will make over time. A bachelor's degree holder makes on average $300 more a week than someone with only some college experience. That adds up to $15,000 more a year and $600,000 more in a career.

"The more education you have. The higher your average earnings are," says Murka. "And, the lower your chances of being unemployed are."


Despite the reality of more money over a lifetime, for many college graduates their degree has not turned into dollars.

"I guess I was so naive. I assumed that I assumed that by getting a four year degree that you make money," says Liza Martin-Voge, a 2005 Ohio University Graduate. She got her degree in four years in Magazine Writing.

Nearly 12 years out of school Martin-Voge still has most of her debt. She took out $27,000 in loans and has never missed a payment. Today she has around $23,000 left because of growing interest.

"That's when it kind of hit me that a higher education doesn't necessarily mean you're raking in the dollars," says Martin-Voge. She doesn't regret her degree or her University, saying she pick them all over again. Still, the debt weighs her down. "It's just hard for me to straddle living a pleasant life and paying off this debt," says Martin-Voge. "It's like I'm kind of just swimming along keeping my head above water."

Today she works for the Greene County Board of disabilities, but she started out in journalism, working in Florida and then New York, Ohio before getting up to an Assistant Editor position, her dream job so she thought. She left the position in 2008 both because she didn't want to do it anymore and because it wasn't paying enough. "I've seen people who haven't finished college or didn't even go to college," says Martin-Voge. "And, they're making more than I was."

Tim Jackson has a similar path to Martin-Voge. Jackson is the photo and video teacher at Dayton Christian High School, but he got his degree in Motion Pictures. His dream was to work professionally with cameras or film.

"I think our generation specifically was always told 'follow your dreams... and that's a little bit ridiculous," says Jackson. "If you work hard enough, you can be anything, do anything, nothing can stand in your way."

Jackson graduated in 2014 after five years at Wright State, and he got real world experience as a freelance photographer. Still, he couldnt find a job in his field.

"I've known plenty of people who just try as hard as they can and still can't manage to launch even with their college degree," says Jackson. "It's not just motion picture majors. It's psychology majors. It's English majors. It's even engineering students. I've known all kinds of degrees that really had a hard time after college finding work."

With his debt, Jackson is doing pretty good Jackson graduated in 2014 and has already paid back $5000 to his student loans. He has about $7000 to go.

"A lot of my progress in paying off my loans has been just being smart with money and trying to always pay way, way more than the minimum payment," says Jackson.


Today nearly 70 percent of college students have some kind of debt. The national average is $30,000 according to the Institute of College Access and Success. Lisa Roberts, who works for Consumer Credit Counseling Services in Dayton, says they are seeing more and more people come in needing help with student debt.

"We've even seen some in here that have borrowed 3-hundred-thousand dollars," says Roberts. "They actually borrow more than what they need."

Roberts says many colleges offer more money to offset expenses like books or housing. But, sometimes students have money left over. What they do with it is up to them. "You might see where some kind of spent it for cars, or, they might have needed clothing or something like that."

Her advice: don't take the money.

"Just because you're approved for $5000 for the semester or what have you doesn't mean you have to use the whole $5000," says Roberts. "You're not going to be able to pay that back."

Roberts says there's no yearly estimate for how quickly you can pay back your debt because it depends on how good of a job you find. She says don't wait to pay off your debt and pay attention to how much you have.

Her tips:

1: Contact your student loan service to see if you can adjust your loan payments based off your income.

2. Make a budget and stick to it. Don't miss a payment.

3. Contact a credit counselor for help. They can keep you to a budget and help you with emergency funding.

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