Cost of your college degree

March 9th, 2010

For almost 10 years, I've been teaching journalism at various college campuses on O'ahu.

And every semester students worry about the same things: jobs, career paths, paychecks. They want to know how much entry-level journalists make — and what their earning potential is. They want to know what majors they should consider if they want to actually get a job. They want to know whether majoring in English is career suicide.

The other day one of my former students posed a question that's been on my mind lately: how much is our college education really worth?

For example, I have a master's degree — for which I took out a major student loan. But I wound up working in a newsroom with reporters who only had bachelor's degrees — and getting paid the same. So my advanced degree didn't matter much.

And at Kapi'olani Community College, where I teach full time, some students are questioning the value of the associate of arts degree. Even bachelor's degrees seem to have lost their luster.

College isn't that affordable. According to, most students and their families can expect to pay, on average, from $172 to $1,096 more than last year for this year's tuition and fees, depending on the type of college. Some colleges charge upwards of $35,000 a year in tuition and fees.

In California, the state government, in an attempt to balance its budget, is raising fees at its state universities. Last year, the UC regents approved a 32 percent fee increase for incoming freshman. And tuition will be more than $10,000 a year for residents.

A full-time resident undergraduate student at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa pays $3,792 per semester; that will jump to $4,200 in the fall. (Non-residents will pay $11,616 a semester, up from $9,408.)

The high cost of college is making it harder for people to get that much-valued degree, even despite more scholarship and financial aid funding available.

But does a bachelor's degree really matter anymore?

What do you think?


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40 Responses to “Cost of your college degree”

  1. oldshoes:

    do these young journalists all still want to be Woodward and Bernstein?Break that monumental news story?

  2. Max:

    Depends on the major and how much the knowledge of its history and philosophy is applicable. In mine, architecture, it is very important. But for my other profession, photography--not necessary.

    Medical profession - important
    Computer science - not so much (IMO), since the field is always changing so quickly, etc.

    So yeah, it matters "what" you major in.

  3. maxcat:

    Hmmm, very interesting question. My undergrad degree was in Pol Sci, but in a liberal arts school, I was exposed to a lot of things. Persuasion and philosophy and religion among them. Also did four years of ROTC because it was 1963-1967 and I was for sure gonna be drafted when I graduated. And sure enough I got the draft notice the day after I was commissioned. Never thought I'd stay in because it was gonna be do four years and get out. Four turned into 27 and I was promoted a lot more than I shudda been. Basically I was promoted because I was able to write, (although you wouldn't know that from my posts), learn and speak (present/brief). I felt that my undergrad work was the beginning of my education, not only did I learn, I was prepared to learn much more. The other great thing about my education is that teachers were available then, in their offices every day AND they didn't come with an agenda. Oh, gotta add that my American Lit prof was fantastic. Through him I began to appreciate literature that I might not have touched before he opened my eyes (mind).

    Then flash forward to 1976-77. Stationed in the Philippines I had a chance to pick up a masters in Asian Studies. Had been in Japan, Thailand and Vietnam prior to that and had married a Korean-American. I undertook the program because I wanted to and needed to have that for further promotion. I never worked so hard in my life. To give you an example one of my two hour readings classes required ten book reviews. The catch was each book review had to be 20 pages long. But, I learned so much.

    Flash forward to 1994. Retired from the Air Force and took enough education classes to teach. Finally a couple years later I got to do something I never knew I would do. Got to build my own Asian Studies honors class at the secondary level. It was terrific, when one of those kids, older now, catches up with me, the dialogue often starts: "Remember me, I was your favorite Confucian" (or Daoist or Legalist). How does one put a value on that? You can't.

    The ability to write, speak, think and speak well will open doors.
    But, I'm not so sure that what you major in is as critical as the work you put into it.

  4. Annoddah Dave:


    The "sheepskin" is like the Master Card commercial...."priceless", albeit getting to be very expensive. The discipline of educational pursuit, the idealism of the academic community, and the freedom of thought is indeed priceless if one understands the opportunities that arise from an advanced degree. In a cost benefit sense it may not work out but from a character building and life perspective, there are benefits as those as outlined by maxcat.

    I struggled to get a degree but thank my lucky stars that I hung in there. Look where I am today...old, fat, and poor! I am living the American Dream..Mortgage, 2 color TVs, dogs, kids, wife and high cholesterol !!!

  5. Capsun (@exbor):

    I think a Master's degree is now what a Bachelor's degree used to be 10-15 years ago. Meaning, many positions already expect everyone to have at least a Bachelor's; possessing a Master's helps you get promoted or perhaps better pay.

    To your students who question the value of an Associate's degree, I think they should see it not as the end of their higher education career path, but the beginning of a continuum of education. Even the military requires recruits to have a high school diploma. And that same military encourages officers to get advanced degrees. You can only go so high up in the ranks with a Bachelor's degree.

    However, going back to what "maxcat" said in the comments, good, logical writing is a skill in any profession and any environment. Therefore, those with more education may be better-equipped in such environments.

    That's not always true; I've worked with people with Master's and Doctorate's who were terrible writers. And I've also worked with people who only had a high school diploma who were excellent. So as with anything in life, your mileage may vary.

    In the end, the point, and the question one should be asking is not "Should I get an education?" but rather "How much education should I get?" And once you get an education and a degree, that shouldn't be the end of it. Professionals like doctors, lawyers, and accountants are constantly increasing their knowledge and skills by attending seminars and workshops. For a good writer, that can be doing a lot of reading, writing, or even blogging. And anyone that wants to improve their writing, but may not necessarily consider themselves good writers, can improve their skills by doing all of that. Anything that stimulates the mind is good for you!

    Finally, going back to the cost factor of education, we always seem to wonder about the cost of educating ourselves. What about the cost of NOT educating ourselves? For anyone working an entry-level job for an entire lifetime, without promotions - not because of a lack of knowledge, commitment, loyalty, or hard work - but simply because of a lack of a degree, that has cost them far more than an education would have.

    Now, if only we could all agree on this, then we could encourage all sides in Hawaii's embarrassing Furlough Fridays debacle to come together and do what needs to be done to restore education in this state and assure everyone that we truly do value education.


  6. Kim:

    Wow, I didn't realize how much UH tuition is now. I guess I'd better start saving more $$ for my grandchildren's education. Doesn't it upset you when you read how much construction workers make ... with only a high school diploma? Of course, it may not be long term, but in the long run they will make more than someone with a college educ.

  7. joekalihi:

    I always thought you never really worked up to your full potential. You could be right up there with Diane Sawyer. Trust me, go for it!!!!

  8. che:

    I think a Bachelor's degree is necessary for certain jobs or professions. I have an accounting background and do accounting related work so the people we hire need a degree to even get an interview.

    I have found that having a high GPA or going to a big name school doesn't alway correlate to better work performance. Also having an MBA doesn't always equate to better performance either.

    What matters more is the ability to listen and learn, to be able to think and work independently and communicate well.

  9. Matt the Cat:

    I went to UH, and it took me 7 years to graduate with a bachelor's degree. I now have a job (and a professional license) for something that wasn't my degree. Although I must admit the 7 years was mainly by choice, leading me to 186 credits (at UH I think you need 124 to graduate) in all kinds of random classes. I even got to meet Cat once after she was Cherry Blossom Queen thanks to a History of Japanese in Hawaii class...

    A college education can only get you so far. Degrees open doors, but it's you that gets paid for the work you do. One of my siblings took 13 years to finish college and has a PhD, but who makes the most money?

    The guy that graduated from high school and went straight to work for Matson :)

  10. zzzzzz:

    As others have posted, it depends a lot on the major and the job.

    It's virtually impossible, for example, to get a job as a doctor or a lawyer without at least a bachelor's.

    And while I agree with che about a high GPA or big name school not always correlating, a lot of times it does, often enough that either can open more doors than a mediocre GPA.

    Part of the benefit of a bachelor's is the networking while working on the degree. Locally, UH grads are all over the place, and the contacts you make while getting a UH bachelor's can be invaluable if you want a job here.

  11. matt:

    In my field (occupational safety), having a bachelor's degree is the easiest route of entry, but some people do make it in via backdoor routes (start at the lowest tech level hauling waste or cleaning test tubes, etc and work your way up). as you get on in my field, the degree is less and less important, but, if you want to change companies, it's often the thing that gets them to look at you.
    of all my colleagues, the one who I respect the most and who, imo, is the most effective safety professional is a guy who doesn't have his degree and a couple of the ones who I think are worthless wastes of space have alphabet city following their names on their business cards.

  12. eddyo:

    Now I really feel OLD! I grad UH Manoa 1980 & tuition was $240.40 per semester. I remember this number because it didn't change in the four years I was there. if you added in the associated student fees the total came out to $265. (& yes this is for real!).

  13. frankie:

    The question is not how much is your bachelor's degree worth, but rather how much does it cost to NOT have one.

    You can't put a price on the experience of college (especially if you leave the rock for the mainland), nor can you place a premium on the opportunities such an experience provides.

    Yes, college costs a lot of money, but it's an investment. The return of said investment is not just in money. It's also a lot more expensive than it was 30 years ago, but so are McDonald's cheeseburgers, cars and our health care system. And I, for one, would rather be treated with today's technology than that of Abercrombie's (well, when he was a young adult).

    There are a lot of people who have 0, 2 and 4 years of post-high school education (as opposed to 15 for me) who make more money than me, but they don't get the satisfaction of the job I do, the impact I can make in mere minutes. If money is all you think about when going to college, then you've forgotten what college is supposed to be about.

    It's no coincidence that Waianae High School has a horrid rate of sending kids to college and that the community is a socioeconomic quagmire.

  14. frankie:

    Even though your master's degree hasn't led to an increase in pay, I'm sure you'd rather have an M.S. degree than an M.R.S. degree as the selling point on your resume, eh?

  15. joyful:

    First of all, I wish they would tell you in college what majors you can get jobs in. My first degree was a BBA in Marketing from UH, which is mostly theory, or, what I call, "useless." A lot of my friends majored in other "useless" majors such as economics, political science, psychology. I eventually went back to school to get an AS in Commercial Arts and now work happily as a graphic designer.

    Students should really talk to their counselors to explore what their passion is, and counselors need to be upfront with them. UH or any other colleges is just another business entity. I'm sure teachers/professors feel passionate about what they do and are there for the students, but the bottom line is that they need to make a profit.

  16. mcb:

    ran into an old high school friend who went into the military right after graduating and he was talking about retiring in a few years. Im just finishing up getting my graduates degree and he's retiring and thinking about either putting in more or looking for a second career.
    back in the day we used to think joining the military was for losers but now when ever i get a chance i tell my younger cousins to seriously think about joining the military rather than wasting there time and money in college especially if when you ask them what they are studying they respond with "just my liberals" and no major in mind.

  17. 808poet:

    I can really relate to your students because a few years ago I was literally in their shoes, wondering if I would ever get that dream job at the Honolulu Advertiser or Honolulu Magazine.

    After earning a bachelor's degree in journalism/English and a master's degree in English (ala UH), I was ready to conquer the world, or so I thought. It took me 25 applications and numerous interviews to finally get land a job in my field. Did I ever think I would be working for a company outside of the publishing industry? Absolutely not, but it does have its benefits.

    Before I landed my job as a news editor for a local company, I had interviewed with several editors and publishers from Hawaii’s major magazines. I almost got a job as an associate editor at a local remodeling magazine. It came down to me and another woman, and of course, they chose the other woman with more experience.

    Looking back, I think my education looked good on paper, but what it boils down to is experience. Every magazine wanted an experienced writer, but how does a college graduate get experience without landing a job? It’s the old catch 22.

    I would highly recommend that students do an internship, even if it means they’d be stuck doing menial things. Also, the opportunities in journalism go beyond the local newspapers and magazines. Look at how many television reporters “jumped ship” to become a director of communications or PR representative for a local company. These types of jobs not only tend to pay better, they actually allow you to have a normal life.

    So, does a college degree mean anything these days? Absolutely, but sometimes it takes more than a college degree to land a job. For current j-students, I would highly recommend working at the school newspaper. Another plus would be sharpening all your journalism skills. In other words, don’t just focus on your writing, take a few graphic design courses, a few photography courses, and a few layout courses. You will not only be considered a writer, but a triple threat, with the ability to do pretty much everything from A-Z in production.

  18. toomanyproblems:

    I feel betrayed by the whole degree process. The high costs and false promises significantly undermine the value of education.

  19. R-Dizzle:

    Several posters have got it right. A bachelor's degree opens so much more doors to opportunities in life. I 'disliked' college because it was torture - I paid the professors to give me stress. However, those four LONG years and all of the sacrifice have already paid off for me. Aside from the earning differences, I believe the entire college experience helps students to gain a different perspective on life. Interaction with and the knowledge you gain from the professors, instructors, and other students makes a college degree invaluable.

  20. papaya:

    I completely agree with Capsun and frankie.

    Yes, higher education expensive and time-consuming. But try making a living and finding a fulfilling job without those credentials. There is variability by field, and there is definitely much to be said for real world, on-the-job experience, but education is also a prerequisite.

    The more college grads we have, the more a master's degree matters. And the more master's degrees issued, the more a doctoral degree gives you an edge. Unfortunately, in our mass pursuit for higher education, the quality of the experience sometimes gets watered down -- and sometimes we end up with quantity over quality.

    To help us all, the powers that be really need to focus on (1) improving and ensuring the quality of education and (2) keeping the rapidly rising costs in check. We need help, and not just in the public school system.

  21. E:

    Yes bachelor's degree does matter. I have an associate and a bachelor's degree (in english nonetheless). If it wasn't for my bachelor's degree I wouldn't have gotten the job that I have now, which I just made 2 years at. The main criteria was a bacelor's degree.

  22. Michael:

    You can major in journalism and become governor. lingle do as lingle does.

  23. Windward Side:

    Simply Yes. I know cost is a factor, but I would encourage anyone to further their education. I know I'm diverting away from your subject but continuing your education after High School will strengthen one's mental maturity. Trade School, Associate's Degree, Bachelor's Degree, Master's Degree......Plus, Plus, Plus, Plus.

  24. Manoa Mist:

    Yes a bachelor's degree does matter.
    Many folks major in journalism and go on to law or politics. A journalism degree - being taught how to be a trained observer - can benefit you in any job where you need to write a report.
    But the cost of college is becoming frightening. Every day, America becomes more of a country of the haves and the have nots.
    Look at health insurance. Rush Limbaugh is doing fine...
    Look at Waikiki. All the tourists in their fancy hotels, walking over all the homeless folks living in the parks and on the beach.
    Education is heading the same way. Look at our Hawaii private schools and our public schools - which we can't even keep open.
    Sorry, but this is not the America we all signed up for. And now that we're all thoroughly depressed...thanks a lot Cat.

  25. Michael:

    Is lingle a lawyer?

  26. Michael:

    Did you know there is an advertisement for an online degree that pops up on your Blog? Coincidental?

  27. Ed:

    My grandaughter is in college now and I am footing the bill. Thank God for her scholarship, multiple grants and student loans, out of the 42K tuition and room and board I only need to come up with 5k /year. She is planning on taking the 4+1 program so that she finishes with her masters in education after 5 years. The starting salary here in De and Md for teachers is 25 to 30K with BS degree with MS degree add another 5 to 10K per year. My sisters after many years of teaching are making over 80K a year. So the money is there. Me I never did finish college even tho I have attened about 18. Never have grown up. started out in Math Ed then went to engineering taking courses as i needed then had the opp to open a restaurant and took courses at CIA.
    Did that for about 15 yrs then went into turf management and more courses, golf course management and a lot less stress. My advice to the kids is find something that you enjoy and keep trying until you do.

    Peace of mind and job satisfaction is worth a whole lot more than being stuck in a job you hate.

  28. NEO:


    You know, honestly, in terms of the work that I do, my bachelor's degree doesn't have much to do with it, although my love of history is evident in the work that I do. However, do I think my experiences as a college student are worth the money I paid to go to college, ABSOLUTELY, those experiences are priceless and I think everyone who has the opportunity, should definitely go to college and get a bachelor's degree. If nothing else, it provides you with tremendous life-experiences that you would not receive elsewhere. In that sense, a college degree is definitely worth the money, but in terms of dollars and cents related to the content of the degree, I don't think a Bachelor's is worth much, as bachelor's degree holders are pretty much a dime a dozen now days... Now that Masters and Doctorate, THAT's where the money is.


  29. Max:

    @ Michael --> Most bloggers who have ads on their site have the kinds that read their tags in their posts, and place ads according to that. So, no coincidence there. I have Google AdSense on my photography site and blog, and they are always about photography. Pretty smart way to filter the ads that are placed on a site, eh?

  30. Ryan:

    My opinion is that employers desire individuals with work experience as opposed to a mere degree. While a degree shows "book" knowledge, nothing beats good old fashioned work experience. The true value of a college degree coupled with experience (internships, work experience, practicums, military experience etc.) is what stands out between one person and another.

  31. Panini:

    I thought of this scene from Karate Kid after reading your blog.

    Daniel: Hey, what kind of belt do you have?
    Miyagi: Canvas. JC Penney, $3.98. You like?
    Daniel: [laughs] No, I meant...
    Miyagi: In Okinawa, belt mean no need rope to hold up pants.
    [laughs; then, seriously]
    Miyagi: Daniel-san...Karate here. [taps his head]

    Miyagi: Karate here. [taps his heart]

    Miyagi: Karate never here. [points to his belt] Understand?

    Higher education is about learning's not about that piece of paper they give you because you passed a few exams. If all you want is the diploma, go to Kinkos and print one up...its cheaper.

  32. James:

    The college degree opens doors. Many jobs are closed to people with only high school degrees. More doors open with a batchelor's degree. And even more with a Master's or Doctor's degree.

    It all depends on what you are trying to do.

    If you want to go in a trade, like becoming a mechanic, a carpenter, a mason, a chef, etc, which is okay, if it is your interest, a high school and a technical school training should be sufficient. You could aim to become the best mechanic, the best carpenter, the best mason and chef etc..

    Others desiring to go in the professions must have a degree just to get in the door and a higher degree to go to higher levels. The doors become fewer in number the higher the ladder you go because of the degree requirement. It may mean moving to the mainland to pursue your goal because of lack of opportunities in Hawaii and then coming back home with the experience and added education. In Hawaii, masters degree and doctors degree are big plusses. It is usually harder to go up the ladder for people with batchelors degrees. Try applying for a job with only a batchelors degree competing with others with a masters or doctors degree. Jobs usually go to the ones with the higher degrees.

    I attended UH on a four year free tuition Territorial/State Scholarship. It was worth $95 a semester ($85 tuition and $10 registration). It did not matter. I had to struggle financially to go through college. Worked in the cannery three summers and at a florist and photo finishing lab as a delivery boy. It cost me minimal amounts to attend college, but I received maximum benefits. Can't complain.

    Attending UH today costs $3,792 per semester or about 39 times more than what it cost fifty years ago. However, everything is relative. Compare that with attending a mainland school that may cost more than $25,000 a semester. The UH student still has a good deal with the same benefits as our time.

  33. skycastles:

    I agree with what everyone's saying.

    Do you think there's a different attitude about this topic depending on location? Hawaii vs. mainland employers?

  34. NEO:

    I am reminded that "to whom much is given, much is expected..." like James says in #32, local students at UH get a great deal. I went to a small school in Colorado, and while I'm not making super huge salary, I absolutely love what I do, and in the end that's what keeps me coming back to work every day. The degree is great, and it does open doors, but really, what matters is what you do once your foot is in the door. Always underpromise and overdeliver... never overpromise and underdeliver, that will get you fired faster than a speeding bullet!


  35. EMM386:

    Honestly, if I was graduating this year from high school, I don't know if I would be able to afford to go to UH to get my engineering degree. The cost is just so much higher than it used to be, and the wages I'd get at part-time jobs probably wouldn't go as far as it used to.

  36. mcb:

    what kind of turns me off about school is that sometimes its not about what you know or what you can do but how well you can write a paper; i think thats why they call it a B.S. degree

  37. smilinpat:

    Students who have the support group and drive should go for it.
    College diploma is a ticket, but self awareness is required and comes with this precautionary tale: academics and precociousness attracted a military offer into F4 Phantom pilot training, a job my need-for-speed self craved at the time. I didn't like the part about napalm and agent orange onto villagers in a jungle. Of course I said "no," and my degree has served me well since.

  38. WildeOscar:

    Looking back, my bachelor's degree was a bargain. I earn in the top 2 percent, and wouldn't have gotten a start without a 4-year degree. I started evening MBA programs three times, got some courses in, and each time had to decide between work and school. Liking regular meals and sleeping indoors, I chose work each time and dropped out. In other words, the MBA wasn't looking like a good financial bet, so I pulled the plug, three times. I once had enough money to pay for law school without borrowing (and I had always intended to get a law degree if I could do so without going deep into debt), but I spent it on an addition to my house instead. Choices...

    My daughter has been accepted at a private high school that costs $11,0000 per year + books, etc. This was never in the plans; we have a perfectly good public high school within walking distance of our house; and we never saved any money for HS tuition. However, she has Ivy League smarts, and I'd hate to say 'no' and foreclose those opportunities. She is not likely to get to Harvard, Brown, or Columbia through our local public HS, no matter how well she does there (the college counselor there once referred to Purdue Univ in West Lafayette, IN, as an "Ivy Leauge school" during a presentation to parents).

  39. Old School Dave:

    As has been mentioned earlier, a college degree is an investment. From my experience many of the people I've known who talk down to and criticized university/college graduates are people who either never made an effort to try and enter college, went and quit, or who flunked out. A lot of people who don't value education are the first ones to criticize an education from my experience.

    On the other hand, my father always drummed in to his four kids the importance of getting an education and graduating even though he attended, but never finished college (demands of work, getting married, and having kids).

  40. Concrete Beam:


    I have 2 jobs, 3 kids, an ex husband, a loan to the bank, and way to many days left untill the next payday, but even so my 20 minutes of my time...I spend it daily on good online news and until now you never made me loose interest.

    I'm greatful for sweetening my daily routine. Yeah, unpleasant times but everybody remember that we need fun also in our lives.