Marianna Mapes, senior
For Maria Carrillo High School senior Sydney Wuu, anxieties about paying for college are nothing new. “I started worrying about it freshman year,” said Wuu, who has her eye on the University of California, Santa Barbara. “I know I’ll have to pay for 100 percent of my college education, but right now I just need to save up for applications.”

Wuu, who estimates her yearly cost of attendance at $20,000, is not alone in her concerns. The Economist reports that while median household income has increased sixfold over the past 40 years, in-state university costs have increased fifteen-fold. This gap has left students and their families in a financial bind. American student loan debt is now greater than credit card debt, according to the financial aid website FinAid.org. That statistic doesn’t bode well for recently graduated twentysomethings, who risk damging the all-important credit score by defaulting on student loans.

“I think any education is worth it,” said Alisha Aiello, a 2007 MCHS graduate who attended Santa Rosa Junior College for two years before transferring to UC Santa Cruz. She isn’t entirely optimistic, though. “By senior year of college, a lot of people are fed up with the UC system and panicked by student loans,” she added.

Aiello’s remarks reflect the declining confidence in the value of secondary education. The Wall Street Journal reports that 79 percent of Americans thought college was “a good investment” in July 2008. One year later, only 64 percent believed it was a worthy investment.

It’s true that much of the cost of college doesn’t actually get invested in the classroom. Universities sink significant sums in athletic teams, and administrative red tape and faculty salaries eat up another large figure, according to The Los Angeles Times. But even so, people with four-year college degrees tend to earn double the income and have better benefits than people who only have high school diplomas. Even in a bleak job market, college graduates spend less time unemployed and are often better qualified for the few jobs available, found the Journal.

But these numbers doesn’t discourage MCHS junior Tyler Cheney, who plans to bypass college in favor of expanding his deejay business.  With two years’ experience under his belt, Cheney knows his decision is a bit of a gamble, but he remains hopeful. “If it pays off like I think it will, I should be in good financial shape, especially because I don’t have to deal with student debt,” he explained.

MCHS guidance counselor Keith Donaldson is no stranger to the difficult decision-making process facing high schoolers. “Some students are very clear about hat they want to do,” he said. “Other students are like leaves in the wind. They go whichever way the breeze is blowing.”

Donaldson estimates that 25 percent of MCHS students go on to attend a four-year college while 60 percent enroll at SRJC. He attributes the increasing number of college applicants to a changing job market. “There used to be a lot of labor jobs, but they’re not really around anymore,” said Donaldson. But even in an evolving economic landscape, students can still set themselves up for success. “The more education you have, the more options you have at your disposal,” he explained. “Most people go through tons of career changes these days. Education is what allows you to be flexible and aerodynamic within the system.”

As application deadlines loom large, Donaldson advises students to look beyond the earnings. “You’re only as motivated as you are committed,” said Donaldson. “If you decide to attend college, you should be absolutely motivated and ready to make it work.”