Liberal Education Students Value and Affordability

Myths About Attending College: Part II

In the previous post, we looked at the first three of nine myths about private colleges debunked by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Let’s continue with the next three.

Myth 4: Many college graduates have student debt in excess of $100,000

Untrue. In 2014, only 4.3% of all student borrowers owe more than $100,000. 70% owe less than $25,000, while 25.7% owe between $25,000 and $100,000.[1] These figures include debt for graduate students, which is much higher than undergraduate debt.[2]

The average amount of debt per undergraduate borrower at private colleges in 2013-14 was $31,200, compared to $25,600 for public colleges.[3] Here at St. John’s, the average debt was $28,700.

It would be better for everyone if students did not have to go into debt to get a college education. But unlike many monetary debts that people contract over a lifetime, this one produces significant economic returns. That brings us to the next myth.

Myth 5: The financial cost of a college degree is not worth the financial benefit

Also untrue. An analysis of data from the Economic Policy Institute shows that holders of a bachelor’s degree earn about 80% more on an hourly basis than students with only lesser amounts of college education.[4]

The median annual earnings in 2014 for workers with a bachelor’s degree was $57,616; with an associate’s degree, $40,404; and with a high school diploma, $33,852.[5]

During the recovery from the Great Recession, between December 2007 and February 2012, college graduates gained 2.2 million jobs, whereas those with a high school diploma or less lost 5.8 million jobs.[6]

While financial returns are far from the most valuable benefits of a college education—the College Board reports that college graduates also enjoy greater security, better health, closer family connections, and an enhanced sense of community[7] —they are real, and they persist during good economic times and bad.

Myth 6: Students are abandoning private colleges for other options

Also untrue. Since 2011 at least, while total college enrollment declined, enrollment at private colleges and universities increased.[8] Here at St. John’s, enrollment has stabilized and has been increasing.

Because of the steady increase in enrollments, the number of private colleges in the United States has continued to grow at a rate of five or six four-year institutions per year for more than a generation.[9]

Despite the prevalence of the myths we have been examining, students continue to flock to private colleges and universities, even as enrollments in public and for-profit institutions decline.

In the next post, the third and last of this series, will be a look at the final three myths on the NAICU list, together with a consideration of how the myths are harming students, their parents, and higher education.


[1] (See p. 6.)
[3] (See p. 22.)
[4] (See chart.)
[5] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
[6] (See pp. 3-4)
[7] See the report called Five Ways Ed Pays here:
[8] Examine their “Term Enrollment Estimates.”
[9] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, “Digest of Education Statistics 2011,” Table 5, August 2011; U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, “Postsecondary Institutions and Cost of Attendance in 2012-13; Degrees and Other Awards Conferred, 2011-12; and 12-Month Enrollment, 2011-12”, First Look, July 2013, Page 4, Table 1. Analysis by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.