community college route

Associates or Doctorate?

Sometimes my wife and I ask what it would be like had she just gone to Community College. Student loan debt has reached an astronomical 1.4 trillion dollar deficit, leaving the average 2016 graduate with more then $37,000 in student loan debt.  With what seems like no intentions of stopping anytime soon, the cost of college is absurd.

Society tells us three things: go to school, get good grades, and you will get a good job. Conventional wisdom says to our younger generations that that the golden ticket is to graduate from college – or else.  However, with both my wife and I following this conventional wisdom, we quickly realized our golden ticket was a ticket to a life of debt. With over $300,000 in student loan debt, I decided to see what the financial breakdown would have been like had my wife just gone to community college.


Read here about how we paid off $109,000 in under 2 years here!


college or not?


Mindset Shift

First, I am not a hater of college, I have two degrees in education and only had about $40,000 in loans to work off (I do find it funny I say only). While I find the value in a college degree, a larger problem lies in the belief that our younger generations should excessively take out student loans without any remorse to pursue their passion.  For example, does it make sense to go to school for five years out of state to get a teaching degree and take out a $130,000 in loans to do so? Did you really need the 5th edition of the biology book that costed $368 at the bookstore, after interest resulting in a $650 book?


Research College Funding!

With the costs of college tuition raising daily, it is vital that we slow down and think before jumping into boat loads of student loan debt.  College doesn’t have to cost a fortune, making a little research and calculating costs vs return vital. To prove my point, let’s just take my wife’s case for example. Had she not gone to college for 8 years and pursued her doctorate what could have happened? 

Check out student loan hero as well – just do research before you (or a family member) make a costly decision! 


Hypothetical Associates Degree:

Instead of a Doctorate in Physical Therapy, what if Lauren pursued an associate’s  to become a registered nurse.  As a community college student she could have lived at home, worked full or part time, and completed her studies at night. Based on a conservative starting salary for a nurse and the costs of a community college now (In 2006 it was significantly less) I compared her fictional nursing degree to her actual path:

Student Loan Debt


Cost Break Down:

These numbers and figures are my wife’s debit situation on the right as of 2015. On the left the “What if community college” game.  As you can see at age 26, had she pursued the nursing path, with a 2-3% annual raise she could have earned approximately 283,000 when you factor out the cost of community college. Or on the flip-side, the plan she choose was to rack up 274,000 in debt (she has more in a parent plus loan). Even scarier, most of her loans are actually in between 7-8% interest. An interest rate of 7% on a principal balance that high makes paying down debt challenging. Ultimately, she had to settle for debit to income ratio payments, which did little to the principal. In fact, in March of 2017 when her loans capitalized they increased $11,000 for the graduate loans and $6,000 for the undergrad loans. A total increase of $17,000 just from the interest!

Read how we used an acceleration process here!


Community College or Doctorate?

Nurse Wins

I vote associates over doctorate. All hypothetical yes, but just google the median salary of a RN and you will quickly learn that in 2016 it was about 65,000. I used very conservative numbers to illustrate my point in the table above. Had Lauren simply went the nursing route, practiced part time while she was in community college, and at age 20 started practicing full time she could have earned approximately $283,000 during the time she spent in “real” college.  In addition to the earnings as a nurse, combined with the debt she took out to be a DPT it was essentially a $648,000 swing.

Like a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown in football, instead of going up 3-0 all of a sudden you’re down 7. Based off these rough figures, after 30 years of making at least $21,000 more as a Physical Therapist then a nurse would, she would finally break even. For the next 30 years Lauren will have to make 21,000 more than a RN before she breaks even. Age 56.

Read how we paid off

  $57,000 in one year here!


Q: At what cost is college worth the price for you? 

Your future self will be glad you read.                  – Josh

2 Replies to “What if My Wife Went to Community College?”

  1. Great post, and it would be useful for high school guidance counselors to share this info with students before they go off to college.

    I do believe in the value of education, and I think college is worth it. However, I agree with you that there are many ways to reduce the costs of that degree! Community college can be an excellent starting place to reduce costs if you plan to pursue a degree that requires additional schooling. Why not attend community college for two years and then transfer? Although there is a lot of competition to get into colleges and universities as an incoming freshman, the story is completly different for transfer students! There are many scholarship and grant opportunities for transfer students. As you said, also, why pay extra for a degree from an expensive private institution that you can get for less at a state school? In the end, employers only care that you have the degree, they do not care where it came from.

    It would be helpful to see a comparison between the potential earnings of a nurse and a DPT in general. Nursing is a good paying field, but so is PT. And with a DPT, wouldn’t one have the option of going into business, which offers the possibility of making even more money? Starting a PT business could open up more opportunities for deferring income in tax sheltered retirement funds – more than what the nurse could do working for an employer.
    Just something to think about, I totally agree that student loan debt is crazy out of control.

    1. Hey,

      I whole heartily agree that more counselors should show students these sort of articles. So many think they have to go to school to have any success, one of the biggest marketing pitches of colleges!

      As an educator and a person with a higher ed. degree I value my education and I do think it is beneficial. We just need to make sure we are not letting teenagers potentially set themselves back as a society.

      Because we are paying off our student loans, my wife will come out on top as a DPT. However, she has friends who are not paying off loans and they are using the IBR plan. Their loans are rapidly increasing in interest every month, making the chances of them paying them off even harder. At the end of the day, my big question is do we want out medical professionals saddled with debt and stress?

      Thanks for commenting!

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