Tomorrow, the SPM results will bring tears of joy for some and bitter disappointment for others. FILE PIC

It’s D-day tomorrow for the 434,535 students as they finally get their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) results.

There was consternation earlier when parents and students got wind that the results were postponed — linked to the issue of a damaged optical mark reader. The news went viral on social media before the Education Ministry could announce the official date.

The nervousness and anxiety surrounding this year’s results are understandable, given that this is the same batch who first sat for the Pentaksiran Tingkatan 3 (PT3) examination introduced in 2014.

Tomorrow, there will be tears, of joy for some, and bitter disappointment for others. Stressed parents will be put to the test, too. All the hard work finally comes to fruition for many after spending 11 years of “compulsory education” in primary and secondary schools.

For some, the day will take an unexpected twist and they might find themselves needing to rethink their plans and make some decisions. At the same time, many more will have no idea what they want to do now that they have received their SPM results.

If you are a student anxiously waiting for your results tomorrow, remember, exam results do not determine the future. If you are a parent to one, there are many questions that need answers to decide on your child’s next step into the future. Questions are not only on the lines of: How do you choose the right university, or the right degree? Nowadays, the answers depend on the cost of tertiary education and who is paying for it.

There are a variety of higher education options out there; from a four-year degree to community colleges and TVET, which is short for Technical and Vocational Education and Training. Cost is often one deciding factor to choose what one does after school.

Tuition fees vary for different degrees, especially between some of the professional courses and more general ones. Scholarships are limited and can be competitive to apply for if one is just an average student.

A few years back, I had helped my son decide what university courses he’d wanted to take. Potential career paths were considered, the teaching and social experiences at various universities were evaluated. In all these conversations, one major factor that led to the decision was the high cost of getting a degree.

Higher education can be overpriced when you do the math. For us, saving on university accommodation by staying home is a consideration for a higher-valued institution that has shown impressive numbers in graduates’ employability.

Since we are paying for his education, it’s logical that the great expense that comes from our savings must convince us to get a good return on our investments. We negotiated with him on the proposed choice of courses based on the demand for the degree qualification in terms of job prospects, before listing the institutions offering the agreed course.

Let’s be real, even with a full scholarship, we want our children to go to a university — not just because it is the social norm to attend one — but, to get a job when they graduate.

As the number of students attending private and public higher education institutions increase, and the cost for most students rising even faster, student debt figures for both total and per person have continued to get higher.

People are taking on these enormous debts when they go for a tertiary education. If one borrowed money where the education did not create any value, for instance, through a job upon graduation, that can be potentially a big mistake. One’s worst nightmare would be falling in this category of students with debt, defaulting on loans but with no degree in the end.

The National Higher Education Fund Corporation has made headlines for the low repayment rates of its loan takers. Those who have not paid their student loans are listed under the Central Credit Reference Information System, which will affect a person’s credit rating.

Many universities target potential students by sharing the benefit from detailed information about the student experience within their course: for instance, how do students learn, class formats and student numbers, how are they assessed, exams or practice-based assessments and pass rates of the course. In this instance, universities that communicate rich examples of a positive student experience are likely to have a competitive advantage.

Useful information for both parents and students should now include total course costs, tables of total repayments at various salary levels if one is taking a study loan, likely graduate career paths for each course, and employability and salary statistics.

As they graduate, they should receive statements that summarise their student loan debt. This should include tables that project the accumulated debt at specific periods — for example five years and 10 years after graduation — at various salary levels.

So, students (and parents) must now better understand the financial consequences of their course choice, university choice and deferred payment decisions. If they do not undertake this analysis, they may experience serious negative financial consequences later in life.

At the same time, it is said that the path to success is the right sort of education that leads one to the best route to a good job, decent income and, even better, health and happiness. Some might argue that the value is not something best captured in economic terms, but best conceived beyond the money spent, as a period for one’s personal growth and intellectual expansion.

Bear in mind this adage when deciding whether a university degree is really worth the cost: If you think higher education is expensive, try ignorance.

Hazlina Aziz left her teaching career more than 20 years ago to take on different challenges beyond the conventional classroom. As NST’s education editor, the world is now her classroom

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