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Too Rich for Tuition Assistance… Too Poor for Tuition

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by Mara Strom

Wisebread had an interesting post about students whose families’ middle class income status has squeezed them out of the golden Medina of federal and state financial assistance: Financial Need.

Blogger Xin Lu cites two college friends whose families were well off enough to be denied financial assistance to their top picks — Harvard and MIT. When their families decided the Ivy League was out of their league, the friends went to their second choice: public in-state schools, where they presumably managed to graduate debt-free.

There’s a wealth of food for thought in this post — and especially in the comments section. For me, one of the most salient issues comes down to the following question:

What is the true value of a college education?

Is there inherent worth to a degree from a certain college? And does that worth correlate to the added tuition — which, for many, means 10-30 years of repaying hefty student loan debt?

Let’s look at it in terms of strict dollars and cents: Are starting salaries for Harvard grads really larger than those for UC-Santa Cruz grads (from Lu’s example)? For the sake of argument, let’s say that they are. But are they large enough to compensate for education costs that are, in many cases, 10 times (or more) higher?

And then there’s the issue of the college experience itself. Whether or not one’s diploma is “worth” more than another school’s in terms of future earning potential, what about what happens during the four+ years you’re in college? Where do things like class size, faculty pedigree, social life, athletics and other community issues figure into the value of your college experience?

What do you think? If you fall into the middle class no-man’s zone for financial aid, how do you decide if the cost of a certain college is “worth” it?

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