Big buck, small bang

Unless you have a disposable amount of time and money, there’s arguably only one general reason why people attend college. The idea is simple: you pay thousands of dollars now, earn a piece of paper that says you learned a few things, all so you can have a better shot at landing a job that would pay you more than if you hadn’t come.

Yes, it’s not the only reason people come to college – there’s extensive education, community involvement, an easier way to party, or just pure curiosity. But when it comes down to it, the majority of people at Sonoma State would not be here today if they weren’t thinking about the payoff of tomorrow. And given the amount that our tuition has risen over the past few years, we’re justified in expecting a pretty good financial future.

Except…our future apparently isn’t going to be that great.

AffordableCollegesOnline.org, a website for students and parents to learn about the financial aspects of different colleges, recently released a list of 62 California colleges, out of 767, that they considered to have the highest return on investment. This calculation takes the incremental lifetime earnings (“the amount of salary earned by a graduate over a 30-year period over and above the amount earned by the average worker with a high school diploma”), minus the cost of the education.

Sonoma State was ranked number 45 with a return on investment of $546,000 off of $5,472 yearly tuition.

Not bad right? Except when you take into account the fact that SSU ranks 16th of the 19 CSUs listed, and that zero UCs are ranked below it. Not to mention, according to the CSU website our tuition actually amounts to $7,234 a year when you include all of the mandatory fees – the third highest of all the CSUs.

Now, we must remember that we aren’t attending Stanford (which ranks number 3 on the list). Most of us chose a state university because of its affordability and relatively average admission requirements.

But we are paying a pretty penny for considerably lower payout in the CSU system. Not only is our high tuition and fees third only to San Luis Obispo and San Jose in the CSU system, but many of the CSU’s cheapest campuses, including Fresno, Fullerton and Long Beach, place relatively higher than SSU (33rd, 30th and 28th, respectively). 

The numbers aren’t all bad, though – according to the CSU website, SSU graduates’ mid-career median salary is $73,600, compared to the national average of $70,407 for graduates of public universities. There is only a 3.2 percent loan debt default rate, which is somewhat reassuring given that 49 percent of SSU assumed loans beginning their freshman year.

But even though we know we’re not at an Ivy League and that our salaries will, on average, keep us afloat, what does it mean when we’re shelling out thousands of dollars more for our education and getting a significantly lower chance at getting a higher paid job? 

Graduates of San Jose State, which ranked number 10 on the list, have mid-career salaries of $90,400. That’s a gap of around $20,000 a year, and San Jose’s tuition is only $109 more expensive than ours.

And, as with all publicly funded colleges, don’t even get us started on the lack of class seat availability, rising costs of textbooks and the ever-decreasing state budget that held us at gunpoint circa Proposition 30.  Yet we still chose to pay $300 a year for an extravagant student center that is nearing its third full month of delay.

Yes, we live in a beautiful area with a vibrant culture and will remember our experiences and education here for the rest of our lives. Yes, college is a price that most everyone agrees one must pay to advance in today’s society. Yes, a high salary isn’t the only important thing in a career.

But we have to ask ourselves: Given the scarcity of today’s job market, are we at the wrong university? Have the numbers officially outweighed the intangible benefits? Are we not getting enough bang for our buck?