Is College A Scam?

Is college a scam? More and more folks are asking themselves this question right now with the cost increasing so much in recent years

By Doug Norrie | Published

is college a scam

With the educational landscape always changing in a world of digital connectivity, it’s fair to ask if the old system of learning and the seemingly timeless institutions within this landscape are still viable. Namely, is college a scam? This is a difficult question to answer on its face because college, these days, can mean so many things. 

One reason many begin to ask the question is college a scam is because the ever-increasing costs of higher learning (including housing) are beginning to price people out of the market. And if that doesn’t happen, they are signing up for almost crippling debt once they get out of the ivy walls of whatever college they attended. It can feel like almost a no-win situation. For many professions, a college degree is necessary, but to obtain one almost definitely means you’ll be set back financially for quite some time, maybe forever.

So, is college a scam? Let’s take a look at some of the latest trends having to do with higher learning and whether the answer is a simple yes or no, or if there is a bit more nuance here.


One of the prevailing stories around education over the last couple of decades, and one thing likely driving the question around whether is college a scam is just how much costs have risen in basically just one generation. Look back to 2002 and the average cost per year of a private institution was $17,938, out-of-state was $10,409, and in-state was $3,738. Frankly, it’s hard to even look at these numbers knowing what they look like now, in 2022.

The latest reporting with this data had the numbers climbing into the stratosphere with the cost of an average private institution sitting at $43,755, out-of-state was $28,328, and in-state was $11,631. Forget inflation, these numbers represent well more than a doubling and it won’t be long until they are three times across the board. How could this even be possible? And how can the average high school graduate even begin to think about the costs associated with higher education now? These costs have folks rightfully wondering is college a scam.

Without financial aid at a private institution, a college degree is going to run you close to, and probably more than, $200,000. That’s a big hole to climb out of early on. And considering government-backed college loans are still very much a thing, there have been few incentives for colleges to even think about reducing costs. In fact, it’s been the opposite.


One of the long promises of going to a four-year college or university, and why they are asking, “Is college a scam,” was that when you graduated the workforce would welcome you with open arms. On some levels, this is still the case. Many, many jobs still require a college degree as a requisite for employment. Entering the workforce in many fields is going to mean having to flash that college diploma at some point. 

On a high level, there are still significant benefits to having a college degree and graduating from a four-year school. For starters, according to Forbes, college graduates still earn, on average, more than those with just a high school degree. The latest numbers on this have those with Bachelor’s degrees earning in the neighborhood of $65,000 per year (median) and those with high school diplomas right around $39,000 (median) per year. So in the aggregate, having a college degree does lead to high wages and lifetime earnings.

Where these numbers get skewed, and where more and more people wonder whether college is a scam is around the actual degree, the cost to obtain it, and the prospects for earnings following graduation in the job market. This is where more and more people are seeing a disconnect between the prospect of getting a college degree and the barometer for success afterward.


For instance, when considering is college a scam, we can look at some degrees and fields where the juice isn’t necessarily worth the squeeze. According to Prep Scholar, there are a number of fields that require college degrees with median salaries almost too low to consider the cost of the education to be “worth it”. This isn’t to say that they aren’t noble fields, and one can’t eventually make a good living. It’s more pointing out that the cost of education has risen at rates well outpacing those fields’ median and average salaries. 

Is college a scam for professions like general and elementary education which now have a median salary right around $41,000 per year? And then there are those with a liberal arts or humanities degree. Jobs related to that course of study come in at $40,300 per year. Fine arts is another that seems to fit into this category with the median salary sitting at $40,500. It is becoming harder to justify paying full rates for college when this is the market post-graduation.

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While college degrees and even advanced degrees are still considered critical in a number of high-paying professional fields like medicine, law, and finance, there is an ever-increasing ability to marketable skills outside of the ivy halls of a university. For starters, trade schools remain one of the best alternatives to college out there. Electricians and plumbers are especially in high demand now. In 2020, the average plumber made $56,330 which stands in stark comparison to the average plumber’s educational training which can run about $3000 total to start. See the difference in this and college?

And then there are coding bootcamps which can folks develop the proper and in-demand development skills to enter a tech workforce. According to Forbes, a tech bootcamp can run students around $13,000 total but the average salary for those who complete it and are hired sits around $67,000. From a cost-benefit standpoint, this also sits well above what many college degrees can offer.


Again, this isn’t as easy as a yes or a no. Many factors are required to know exactly whether college is worth it or not. Clearly, there are some fields where college is necessary to enter the profession and the latter pays excellent salaries. But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that this isn’t the case for all degrees and it’s ones that have people wondering whether college is a scam.

It’s best to investigate the costs associated with a degree and what the salary expectations are after graduation to know if college is a scam or not.