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Is a College Education Worth the Cost? American Sentiment is on the Rise

College grads, however, report making sacrifices to combat higher education costs



August 4, 2015

After six years of increasing negativity, Americans are feeling more optimistic about investing in a college education according to the latest COUNTRY Financial Security Index.

With the economy and financial sentiment rebounding in 2015, this is the first time Americans’ thoughts on investing in a college education have moved positively in the last seven years. Fifty-two percent of Americans currently believe a college education is a good financial investment, up from 48 percent in 2014. However, Americans are still far from reaching the pre-financial crisis levels of optimism. In 2008, 81 percent of Americans felt strongly about investing in education.

“The vast majority of college graduates (83 percent) are glad they invested in a college education,” says Joe Buhrmann, manager of financial security at COUNTRY Financial. “While this might not be consolation for soon-to-be college students weighing the costs of higher education, there are ways to help lower the near-term financial burdens and maximize the long-term benefits a college education provides.”

Cutting back on campus life

To help decrease the burden of higher education expenses, the majority of college graduates sacrificed some of their free time to work during college. Among four-year college graduates, at least three out of four respondents (77 percent) reported working during college to cover their expenses as students.

Americans, however, are split on what is a better investment: a part-time job to pay the bills or an unpaid internship that may pay dividends in future careers. Fifty-four percent of Americans would advise a college freshman to take a part-time job to help pay for college, while 44 percent recommend an unpaid internship to gain career experience.

Students are also proactively looking for ways to save money while earning a degree. Along with tuition, housing can be one of the most expensive college costs, but students are taking measures to reduce or eliminate this expense.

• Recent grads aren’t the only ones moving home after school to save money. More than a third (34 percent) of Americans with college degrees lived at home while they were in school to cut back on housing expenses.

• To manage housing costs during college, 42 percent of college graduates report living with at least one roommate and 40 percent lived in campus housing.

The smaller costs add up too – 71 percent of Americans with a college degree felt that the cost of education played a role in their ability to participate in extracurricular activities, and may have opted not to join organizations such as Greek life or club sports due to cost.

“College leads to additional responsibilities like managing new expenses. It’s important to control these costs during your time on campus to avoid making additional sacrifices and accumulating debt that could add to the burden of student loans,” adds Buhrmann.
To help manage costs during time on campus consider these simple tips:

  1. Be aware of the amount of student loan debt you will accumulate and have a plan in place for after graduation. Millennials report they are more than twice as likely as older college graduates to delay major life events such as: getting married, buying a house or having a baby, due to the burden of their student loan debt.
  2. Be sure to explore all financial aid options before enrolling. This includes completing your FAFSA and applying for local and national scholarships.
  3. Compare the cost-of-living for different campuses before enrollment. Be sure to seek alternatives like a Residence Assistant program and student housing options.
  4. Seek employment opportunities – both on and off campus. Working part-time while earning your degree will provide extra spending money for necessities. Many campuses offer work-study programs as an option as well.
  5. Consider money saving options for supplies and materials. For example, rent textbooks instead of purchasing them.

The COUNTRY Financial Security Index®

Since 2007, the COUNTRY Financial Security Index has measured Americans’ sentiments of their personal financial security. The Index also delves deeper into individual personal finance topics to better inform Americans about the issues impacting their finances. Survey data, videos and analysis are available at and on Twitter at @FinanceSecure.

The COUNTRY Financial Security Index was created by COUNTRY Financial and is compiled by GfK, an independent research firm. Surveys were conducted using GfK’s KnowledgePanel®, a national, probability-based panel designed to be representative of the general population and includes responses from approximately 1,000 U.S. adults for national surveys, plus a sample of approximately 1000 adults with a College Graduate (4+) degree for this survey. The margin of sampling error for a survey based on this many interviews is approximately +/- 3 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.

Figures cited from 2008 were compiled by Rasmussen Reports, LLC, an independent research firm, based on a national telephone and online survey of at least 3,000 Americans. The margin of sampling error for the 2008 survey was based on this many interviews was approximately +/- 2 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.