Get in, get educated, get out fast.
With tuition bills rising about as fast as the loan payments, one expert has proposed a fix to shave 25 percent off the bill – graduate in three years instead of four.
“You can basically cut those costs but at the same time protect the schools financially,” said Paul Weinstein, director of the public management graduate program at Johns Hopkins University.
Tuition and fees tripled at public and private schools from 1971 to 2013, adjusted for inflation, according to College Board. The gas pedal was pressed beginning in 2003 and then floored during the Great Recession.
By 2013, the average public, in-state degree cost $35,572, Weinstein said.
A long-term solution might be to cut school overhead, but that approach wouldn’t be needed by graduating students sooner, Weinstein said. It would simply move students through the system faster.
“The thing you have to look at most carefully is making sure that schools don't cut liberal arts courses and simply keep science and other courses,” he said.
While the a year of college is irreplaceable in terms of frat parties and tailgates, Weinstein said most students are continuing their education in graduate school. Taken alongside a masters or doctorate, a lost year of undergraduate study may be a drop in the bucket.
“We need to acknowledge that when more people feel the need to get a masters or more, this is not the end of school,” Weinstein said.
College costs have soared in large part because states cut funding to their public colleges, which are attended by about half of university students.
Since 2007, states cut college funding by 23 percent per student, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Public universities passed the buck to students by raising tuition by 28 percent. Only North Dakota and Alaska invested more money in students during the Great Recession.
The result was 1.1 billion in student loan debt, Weinstein said, three times what was owed in 2004.
Still, college degrees are needed more more than ever. Millennials (born after 1980) with a four-year college degree or better earned an average of $45,500 annually in 2012, compared to $28,000 for a high school graduate, according to a Pew report.
College grads, who make up one-third of millennials, also enjoy a lower unemployment rate of 3.8 percent compared to 12.2 percent for high school graduates.
Even so, they’re conflicted about the value of their degrees. Less than half of millennials said that their education – diploma or not – was very useful to preparing them for a career. Yet, six out of ten also said going to college has already paid off.
Most of the rest said that it will – eventually.
Gavin Stern is a national digital producer for the Scripps National Desk. Follow him on twitter at @GavinStern or email him at email@example.com