Top College Regret? 20% of Graduates Wish They'd Done It Differently

By Todd Campbell Markets Fool.com

College costs more now than ever, and that's even after adjusting costs to account for inflation. According to The College Board, the price of an average four-year private college is $33,480 per year, not including room and board. Given college's soaring cost, it may not surprise you that 20% of college graduates wish they'd forgone their pricey school for a cheaper one, according to a recent survey by Claris Finance.

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Image source: Getty Images.

A bit of background

Toss in room and board, and The College Board pegs the price of a private four-year school at $45,370 during the 2016-2017 school year. That's up 3.4% from last year.

Public schools got pricier this year, too. It costs $20,090 for tuition, fees, and room and board at a public four-year school in 2016-2017, and that's for in-state residents. Out-of-state residents are paying $35,370, on average, at public schools.

At those rates, it's understandable why graduates are second-guessing their school choice. After all, many are beginning their career under a mountain of debt. For example, the average person graduating from the class of 2016 exited finished with $37,172 in student loans, up 6% from 2015, according to Student Loan Hero.

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Dissatisfaction is high

While 43% of college graduates feel good about their decision, many respondents to Claris Finance's survey are unhappy with their post-secondary choice.

Nearly one out of every five people wishes he or she had chosen a cheaper school, and 24% say their college education was "a waste of time."

A college degree still pays off in terms of income, but the costs associated with paying off student loans are zapping young workers' ability to achieve financial security.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time workers age 25 and up with at least a bachelor's degree earned a median $1,266 per week in the third quarter of 2016, while those with only ahigh school diploma earned a median $700 per week.

Ahistorically disproportionate share of that extra income, however, appears to be heading to student loan payments, rather than 401(k)s.According to Experian, student loan debt increased 84% since 2008, and the American Institute of CPAs finds that half of workers report delaying retirement contributions because of their student loan payments.

Because pensions are disappearing and Social Security's arguably on shaky financial footing, hefty student loan bills are creating big obstacles to financial independence.

Vanguard reports that workers under age 35 contribute less than 5.5% of their income to workplace retirement plans, and that's far less than baby boomers, who contribute closer to 8% annually. Since young workers are saving so little,the average account balance in a 401(k) for a person under age 35 is an anemic $8,400. That's a pretty poor start on the path to financial security.

Changing attitudes

While community colleges have in the past played second fiddle to four year schools, they're increasingly being embraced by cost-conscious students.

The College Board reports that tuition and fees at public two-year schools averages only $3,520, or about 36% of the in-state cost for a public four year college. That's a substantial savings, and more students know it. In 2000, 2 million students were enrolled full time at public two-year schools. By 2014, that number had increased to 2.7 million people.

The decision to save money by attending a two-year school could pay off handsomely, if it causes young workers to sock away more money into retirement accounts.

Almost 60% of students at two-year schools don't owe a dime in student loans, and if those students begin investing earlier in their career, the payoff could be significant. Because of compound returns, a 25-year old who invests $550 per month can end up with a million-dollar portfolio at age 65, if that person earns a hypothetical 6% annual return.Alternatively, if that worker has to wait to begin saving until age 35, that $550 per month investment would grow to only $521,784 at age 65.

The lesson? Keeping a lid on student loan debt and investing your savings could be one decision you won't end up regretting.

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