How College Cost Me $1.6 Million

Is anything in life priceless? Should we spend millions of dollars searching for a lost hiker? If not, at what cost do we suspend the search? Is there a limit to what we should spend on medical services to help a sick loved one? If so, what’s the spending limit? And more to the point of this article, is a college education worth any price? As important as I view an education, I’m starting to question its financial value. Here’s why–

In 1979 I had $70,000 in the bank. I was in the 8th grade. How I got the money (though I’m sure you’re curious) is not important. Let’s just say I lost something that money can’t replace. Anyway, the money went into CDs, and I dutifully spent it on my education a few years later.

The other day I got to wondering what that $70k would be worth today if instead of buying an education, I bought shares of an S&P 500 index fund. Assuming a 12% annual rate of return, my $70k would be worth today a whopping $1.67 million ($1,671,870.65 to be exact). Now while my portfolio is coming along just fine, it has yet to reach such lofty heights. So the question is, would I have been better off passing on an education and investing my $70k instead? I think probably not, and here’s why.

First, knowing who I am, I think it unlikely that I would have had the discipline to keep the $70K invested all those years. Particularly in my younger years, I likely would have frittered it away.

Second, I do believe there is value in an education that is difficult to measure in dollars. That’s not to say its priceless, but we have only one life to live, and for me, a college education has made my life more meaningful. This, of course, won’t be true for everybody.

But the real question comes down to this–would I exchange my career and education for $1.67 million today if I could. It’s easy to say yes and that might be my answer. But somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind, I wonder if I wouldn’t ultimately regret such a decision.

What about you? Has the cost of your education been worth the price?

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about a group of guys, five to be exact, who chose business over an education. I guess they took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Published or Updated: April 3, 2014
About Rob Berger

Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Comments

  1. plonkee says:

    My education was worth the money I spent on it. I’m not cut out to be an entrepreneur and I like the job that I do, which requires a degree.

    If I hadn’t gone to university, I think that I wouldn’t be as happy now, and that’s important to me.

  2. Matt says:

    I’m $30k in debt from my college education but I believe it’s been worth it – more from the point of view of the extra-curricular activities I got involved in, the friends I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had as opposed to the actual education itself.

  3. josoft says:

    With the many ways to finance a college education, such military service, scholarships, and grants, why is everyone getting into debt?

  4. Sofee says:

    This questions interests me as I am soon to be knee high in school debt. I am 24, a receptionist and have 2 years of college. I am going to go back to school full time, and don’t want to stop until I have a masters in Speech Pathology. It is my pleasure to get in debt for this purpose. I’ll get back to you in 20 years, my tune may have changed. But what am I to do!

    • DR says:

      Sofee, I don’t regret going to college at all. But there is a cost, and education isn’t priceless (as important as it is). Good luck!

  5. Ivan says:

    The author couldn’t have known in 1979 that the S&P 500 was going to return 12% yearly. The S&P 500 could have very well returned 3% yearly, barely making up for inflation. In 1979, the future did not look that bright.

    Education, on the other hand, is a sure thing (although some people, rather few, manage to blow it even with a college degree).

  6. Deborah says:

    I was in my last year of high school had about $25-30k for losing something money can’t replace as well….

  7. I think spending 70k on an education in the 80s was incredibly expensive. probably worth 150k today.

    I’m sure you could’ve spent only 35k and still had $800k today! :D

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