June 7, 2022 

Over the last several years, the cost of college has dramatically increased, far outpacing the inflation rate. Many discussions have occurred on whether higher education is still worth it and all the reasons a high-priced education might not bear the returns it once did. With so many graduating in mountains of debt, it is unrealistic to expect entry-level jobs to provide the income needed to make dents in that debt.  

All this is to say, if you look at this from a numbers point of view only, you may reach similar conclusions as many do—that a college degree is no longer worth the cost. What about the intangible benefits? What about absolutely everything but the diploma? 

I would contend that the cost of college is worth it! So much focus is on the monetary cost. I won’t pretend that it isn’t important or that it isn’t discouraging to saddle so many of our young adults with loans to pay right at the start of their adult lives. However, I would argue that they get more than the diploma in the end. We, as parents, want to raise respectful, kind, productive, and intelligent adults. We want the next generation to be all we are not, right? Let’s step away from the cost of the diploma discussion for a minute.  

Going away to college is how many learn to be all those things we hope for. As the mother of a 19-year-old freshman in college, I can tell you that as much as I tried to instill all those attributes in my son for the first 19 years he was under my roof, he learned more about them in just the first 3.5 months of being away. It is an unarguable fact that doing it is different than hearing it. He had learned all the basics; a crash course before he left helped with those. He can do laundry, wake himself up, and make friends. Now, he can also advocate for himself, deal with setbacks, and learn a new city—all of this without me by his side. Of course, there are phone calls and a parent weekend visit.  

After dropping him off on Aug. 15, I returned on Nov. 3 to find a completely different human. He looked different, more grown-up, more sure of himself. He acted differently, and showed us around his new life. He and his new friends planned for all the parents to get together—planned themselves! Before he left, he couldn’t set up prom pictures without all the parents making plans and telling the kids where to be and when. 

As he lived in his new world and each new task approached, I was anxious. He handled them all with an ease I had never seen before. There were some bumps in the road along the way, some homesick days, and even some days he has questioned his choice to go so far away. Again, those moments have taught him a lot. He learned he is resilient; he learned every day is not a good day and that it’s okay to have a bad day.  

He embraced this new challenge with far greater confidence and bravery than I could have imagined. He grew more in that short time than in all his time at home. More importantly, he grew in ways that will help him become the person I was trying to get him to be for years. He grew in all the ways society needs him to grow. He will undoubtedly help many of you one day; they all will.  

The point of sharing my story is not to convince everyone to send their kids to high-priced schools and go into debt. It is about recognizing that the cost of college is not the only aspect when deciding whether your child should go away to college. It is about recognizing that for some kids, going away is the most valuable learning experience of all. Instead of deciding against sending kids to school due to the expense, consider saving as early as you can so the borrowed amount is more manageable. We need to look at more than the degree; we need to look at all they are getting to set them up for the future—a future we need them to succeed in. 

About the author: 

Sue Hopkins is a Vice President of Relationship Management for Ascensus Government Savings. The 529 industry leader by almost any metric, Ascensus services 42 plans across 25 states and the District of Columbia, with over $174 billion in assets in over 6 million accounts. She has worked at Ascensus for almost 15 years and lives in central Massachusetts with her husband, Brad, sons Jack and Will and her stepdaughter Raegan.