Question of 'Is college worth it?' weighs on local students

  • Annie Nagle, 21, of Rohnert Park studies a writing book, Friday May 17, 2013 on the Santa Rosa Junior College campus in Santa Rosa. Nagle needs one more class to graduate for her Associate of Arts, but will have to way until next semester. She is questioning if college is really worth the price of student debt. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Total student loan debt has soared to about $1 trillion nationwide and increasingly the question of attending college is being framed in terms someone with an MBA would use:

Is the rate of return on a college education worth it?

"Right now, no," said Bianca Calderon, 23, a Fortuna native who graduated from Sonoma State University last week with a degree in criminal justice.

"I'm looking for a job and it's really, really hard. Especially in my field," said Calderon, who is her family's first college graduate and now owes about $20,000 in student loans.

She considered dropping out during her junior year because of the growing debt, but decided she was already too far along to quit, and also that she couldn't disappoint her family and professors. Now, she said, she's considering getting a master's in public administration to improve her job prospects.

For years, research has shown a direct link between education and income: the more education you have, the more money you make.

But the value of a college education is being questioned by, among others, President Ronald Reagan's education secretary, William Bennett, who thrust the issue into the national debate last month in his new book, titled "Is College Worth It?"

His answer: Not every college and not for everyone.

That's true especially, Bennett says, given the debt graduates can leave with — an average of $25,250 nationally — and the large number of American students who do not finish college.

"The return on investment is positive, we think, for about 150 colleges and universities, but there are about 3,000 colleges and universities," Bennett said in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance.

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