The most for students’ money

Several factors considered when selecting a college and achieving postgrad success

Tayler Reviere Verninas | Editor in Chief | The USD Vista

As new data emerges, studies have found that prestigious universities do not always guarantee the highest-earning graduates. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently released an article about which colleges give students the most for their money.

The WSJ listed several factors that students take into account when deciding whether to attend a more expensive private university such as the University of San Diego. Graduation rates, student debt, post-graduation earnings, and cost of family incomes are all important factors.

When choosing between colleges, senior Chris Miller sought a smaller school with undergraduate research and internship opportunities.

“I wanted to end up somewhere I liked for four years,” Miller said. “Someplace that’s growing and has a lot of job opportunities post-grad. A place I wouldn’t mind living and working in after college.”

Because Miller received a merit scholarship from the university, his family was able to afford the cost of attendance at USD.

“About 20 percent of my tuition costs are covered through my merit scholarship,” Miller said.

Although Miller stated he has been fortunate enough to graduate from USD without any loans, that is not always the case for most students. According to the university’s website, 75 percent of current students receive financial assistance with an average financial aid award of about $31,535. Senior Hailey Molden is one of many Toreros who receive financial aid through Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Molden will have to pay off her student loans after graduation.

However, for Molden, her psychology major requires three more years of school which means her undergrad loans will be deferred until after graduate school.

“I am going to school to go to more school,” Molden said. “It’s hard because I am not going to work after I graduate. I know that when I have the career for what I am going to school for, I will be able to pay it off. It just won’t be when I graduate [from undergrad]. But, I don’t have to pay off the loans yet because I will still be in school.”

Vice Provost Thomas R. Herrinton stated that the graduation rate is the most important factor, because it is the goal of every entering student to graduate.

“While the federal standard is a six-year graduation rate (for full-time, first-time students), I think the four-year graduation rate is even more important as each additional year a student spends as an undergraduate is another year of tuition to pay as well as a year of delay in starting one’s career and earning money,” Herrinton said. “Based upon the values I have been able to find online, USD has the highest four-year graduation rate of the non-profit universities in the city of San Diego. Getting a good-paying job after graduation is the number one reason students attend college these days, so obviously this is important also.”

The article advises students to make an honest assessment of their ability to succeed in a college working environment. Molden recognized that the price of her education as an undergrad Torero affected her reasons for being successful in school.

“I think during my first semester was when I grasped the concept of how much it costs to go to USD, and that is what motivated me to actually do my homework,” Molden said.

When it comes to doing more in terms of academic success, Molden explained her experience with balancing schoolwork and outside activities.

“I always think there is room for improvement with academics, but I also need to take the opportunities I have here to enjoy San Diego,” Molden said. “I am definitely satisfied with my college experience. I could be studying more, but there are also other things that college has to offer. It is not just about class or tests.”

Miller also believes he has done just the right amount of work in order to be successful at USD.

“I think if I would have pushed for more classes I would’ve been focusing all of my time and effort in academics solely, and I don’t think that is how you learn as a whole,” Miller said. “You have to socially learn from other experiences and encounters outside of the classroom. Being abroad and learning about another culture or language — things you can’t necessarily learn inside of a classroom. Also, with research you learn a lot of practical things. Within a classroom things are more theoretical and don’t always perfectly apply to what you do outside of the classroom.”

However, senior Miranda Rappoldt wishes she would have explored more academically when trying different classes.

“In terms of extracurricular [activities], I feel like I am involved in what I knew I wanted to check out coming to school,” Rappoldt said. “But academic-wise, I wish I would have branched out and taken some business classes or art classes which would have provided for a slightly more well-rounded education and experience.”

Every year, the USD Career Development Center (CDev) compiles data on students completing their undergraduate degrees.

The most recent data was collected for the 1,286 students who graduated between August 2015 and May 2016. About 94.2 percent of these graduates are employed, in graduate school, in the military, or participating in full-time volunteer service.

Robin Darmon, Senior Director of the Career Development Center, recognized that USD is an expensive university but that the campus has a unique support system.

“I have been on public campuses where it is much cheaper but you don’t get the same support,” Darmon said. “I will give the Board of Trustees and the President and our leadership team a lot of credit though because they make sure you guys have a ton of support given the cost. It’s costly but there are a lot of pluses that go with it.”

Darmon shared why this support system is different from other surrounding colleges and universities.

“Our career-service team is spread out all over campus and the idea is to make it as easy for you guys to use us and access us,” Darmon said. “The other thing we are really big on is experience. I am all about [students] going on treks, doing an internship, being a part of the mentorship program, and going to networking events. The more our team can propel you into a networking situation where you get to test drive an internship experience or you get to talk to an alumnus and ask what their experience is, the more valuable it is.”

Once students graduate from USD, the door to the Career Development Center never closes. As alumni, Toreros have a lifetime of access to all the resources the CDev offers and can even consult with the center’s dedicated, lifetime career coach if they decide to take on a new job later in life.

Another factor the WSJ mentioned is postgraduate earnings, stating that science and engineering majors are top earners at all stages. As a biochemistry major, Miller was pleased to hear this statistic.

“It’s comforting to know that this large starting salary will get me started on a life path pretty well,” Miller said. “I’m hoping to go to medical school, so I am going to have a bunch of debt after that. Although I haven’t really looked into it too much, I have an idea of making around $120,000 post-med school. I’m hoping to get a job in the gap year before med school and my target would be around $60-70,000.”

As a behavioral neuroscience major, Rappoldt is still unsure what specific job she wants to work after graduation.

“Potentially I will go into the healthcare field, but as of next year I don’t want to go to a med-school or grad-school program,” Rappoldt said. “So next year is going to more about figuring out which part of my major I want to use. I don’t know how much I would be making with that because I have not really researched it.”

According to Herrinton, of the 978 students from the graduating class of 2017, 51 percent graduated with no debt. For the 479 students who graduated with student debt, their average total debt was $30,854.

Rappoldt expects to graduate this May with some student debt.

“I think the biggest obstacle will be finding that job that allows me to erase those loans,” Rappoldt said. “USD does have tools such as the Career Development Center. I have looked into them for an internship but I need to put in more time. Now, I feel like at the end of this semester my end goal is finding an internship for next semester that will find me that job that I can hold for a long time. Even if I get a minimum-wage job I will still be able to pay off some of the loans. But I’m not sure if I would sustain otherwise in terms of living comfortably.”

However, the real question for Toreros is whether they are getting the most for their money at USD. Molden seems to believe so.

“Yes, because I feel like I have received a really good education and I have worked hard in school,” Molden said. “I have also had a really good college experience being able to live at the beach and study abroad.”

Miller chuckled when considering the same question.

“We’ll see if I get a job,” Miller said. “I feel like you can get the same education and opportunities for a lower cost. I do think it [USD] is rather expensive, but that being said I wouldn’t trade what I have done for anything. But the determinant is what will happen in the future — if the fact that my degree at USD is valuable to people in the workplace,  which I think it will be, but I don’t know!”

Whatever the factors may be for choosing this university, undergraduate success may highly affect postgrad opportunities. And, it is possible that their success postgrad might also determine whether they “got the most for their money” here at USD.