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College or a Corvette?

PHOENIX — For the last 30 years, taking on debt to graduate college has mostly been worth it.

But for the majority of students today, it’s not. The cost of college tuition increased 439 percent between 1982 and 2007, while income during that same time only went up 147 percent.

The tuition costs at my alma mater have almost doubled since I graduated in 2000.

On one hand, Congress had made it harder for 18-year-olds to rack up debt. Two years ago, legislation was passed requiring anyone under the age of 21 to have a co-signer before he or she can receive a credit card. This was perceived as a great idea because it keeps kids out of debt.

But on the other hand, the government and private lending firms are falling over themselves to hand out more and more college debt. This is a great idea because you are investing in your future and it will pay off later, even if your total debt becomes the equivalent of a brand new convertible Corvette.

The Wall Street Journal recently did a profile on the heavy burdens of student debt. It found more and more college graduates are putting off marriage and children because of their debt loads.

Jodi Romine spends 60 percent of her income paying back loans. She earned a business degree but could only find work as a bank teller. Her fiancé, Dean Hawkins, is 31. He’s still spending 40 percent of his income on his loans.

The debt from private colleges is only worth it if you work in a high-paying field.

Take Danielle Jokela, for example. After high school, she earned an Associate’s Degree, then she started working in order to save for her Bachelor’s.

But Jokela couldn’t save enough and ended up having to take out loans. She’s going to be paying them for the next 25 years — until she is 50. After adding tuition, fees and interest, Jokela’s total costs will be $211,000. She’s hasn’t been able to find a job in her area of study either.

That’s not uncommon. A staggering 53.6 percent of graduates “under the age of 25 were jobless or underemployed.” This statistic doesn’t just apply to those with arts and humanities degrees — degree holders in high-demand fields are seeing their wages slip too.

Meanwhile, the cost of college is only going one way: up. Four years at a public university will cost on average $30,000, not including fees, books and room and board. Private college tuition costs $109,000.

Despite that, high school seniors are expected to head right off to college. Yet only 56 percent of them will graduate with a degree within six years.

Clearly, they aren’t all ready. We’re just still under the assumption they will all figure it out when they get there.

The point here is not to say college isn’t worth it at all, but it’s clearly become too financially burdensome for many. It’s become cost prohibitive, and yet we continue to push 18-year-olds to attend. President Barack Obama said as much on Tuesday.

“A higher education is the clearest path to the middle class,” he said.

It is still true college graduates out-earn high school graduates, but the upfront costs are just too much. Burdening 22-year-olds with a loan the size of house at the start of their career isn’t financially sound.

Maybe degree costs should be tied to the amount of money it translates to in the real world. Until that day comes, college should be a place for specialized degrees, not open-ended places to figure out your career path sometime within the next six years.

Because with the current rates colleges are charging, let’s face it, it’s just not worth it.

Rob Hunter is part of the on-air team on the Bruce St. James Show, weekdays from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. He also co-hosts ‘Rob and Mark’ on Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on News/Talk 92.3 KTAR.