Monday, May 10, 2010

Why Go to College? Is It Really for the Money?

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke addressed the graduating class of the University of South Carolina Saturday, telling the students,"We all know that getting a better-paying job is one of the main reasons to go to college....But if you are ever tempted to go into a field or take a job only because the pay is high and for no other reason, be careful!"

Pretty basic -- and close to what our parents may have said to us years ago. But many of us probably aren't offering such advice today, given the recent money scares, concern about outliving one's money, even the cost of college for our children's children. That's sensible, but a shame.

When I was in my senior year of college, I contacted many newspapers, eager to be hired as a reporter. I was an English major who wanted to write. I never even thought about how much money I would make. Another close friend joined VISTA and then taught for 30 years, yet another was committed to work in a museum, and she did. Money clearly wasn't top of mind.

The point here -- to echo Bernanke -- is that you're better off finding something you love to do. In the long run, you'll make up in satisfaction and personal achievement what you may not have gained in dollars.

That's easy for me to say; I certainly don't practice what I suggest. Money is important and we do need some level of assets, not debt, to help us achieve a satisfying life that isn't weighed down with money worries. So maybe the best thing we can do for our teens is to give them the tools to figure out, in general terms, how to balance the idealistic and practical.

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