Some Debt-Laden Graduates Wonder Why They Bothered With College

It's the American way to try to make as much money as possible. And it's said that the way to earn more is to get the best education you can afford.

But in today's economy, where so many overqualified people are competing for fewer jobs, the promise of a big payoff from a college diploma can be misleading.

For some students such as Rachele Percell, it has turned out to be a total disappointment. She's the first one in her family to go to college and said she'll probably be the last. Earlier this month, struggling to make ends meet, Percell moved out of her New Hampshire apartment and is upset about taking a step back.

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"I didn't plan to go move back in with my mother," she said. "I feel like I have to sponge off my family now."

Percell never dreamed that this is what would happen after she graduated from college. She grew up hearing that education pays. A government study once claimed that a bachelor's degree was worth $1 million over a lifetime. Even political figures like Hillary Clinton were touting the benefits of a college degree.

So Percell borrowed enough money to pay about $24,000 a year to attend Rivier College in Nashua, N.H. She's about $85,000 in debt.

"I was told just to take out the loans and get the degree," she said, "because when you graduate, you're going to be able to get that good job and pay them off, no problem."

But for three years, Percell has struggled to find a job with her degree in human development. And the recession has made her search even tougher. To pay the bills, she took a low-level desk job with an insurance company, doing work she says she could have done straight out of high school.

When asked if going to college was worth it, she replied with an emphatic "No."

"Because now I have this huge amount of debt, and there's no way I'll be able to pay it off," she said.

Rivier College said via e-mail that Percell's situation is" unfortunate" and that many of its graduates have launched successful careers. But many students now say the business about college earning you $1 million more is an empty promise.

'I Feel Like a Loser'

Like most students, Kris Alfred was repeatedly told in high school that everyone goes to college.

Alfred said he owes more than $125,000 for his degrees in theater when he's not even working in that field.

"I work at a call center, and I make $10 an hour," he said. "It's surreal. I feel like a loser."

Walter Rowland got a degree in meteorology and now owes $77,000 in student loans.

"College was a rip-off and nothing against, you know, my college or my professors, but I was misinformed," he said.

"You're led down this path of needing to go to college," he continued. "The college diploma is the new high school diploma."

Personal finance guru Suze Orman says college is a no-brainer for kids who can be lawyers and doctors. But she says that in this economy, many others should reassess the value of a generic bachelor's degree. She believes it ultimately might not be worth it.

Orman said it's often smarter to acquire specific marketable skills at a community college, a technical school or by working as an apprentice for a business, making yourself more employable without piling up a mountain of debt.

"I would rather see a child go to a community college, knowing that they can go out there, get a job and not be crushed under the burden of a prestigious degree," she said.

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