• August 30, 2015

Education Pays, but How Much?

Higher education has a public-relations problem. Family incomes are stagnant, but tuition keeps going up. Many students who begin college don't graduate. Even among those who do, students who borrow are finishing with greater and greater average debt burdens. And then they're walking into a tough job market. So what is a college degree really worth?

The answer to that question is clearly important for higher education. But trying to find it isn't easy and brings a fair bit of controversy.

On Tuesday, the College Board released its latest installment of "Education Pays,"  a report that showcases the financial and nonfinancial payoffs of earning that degree. In the introduction, the report's authors make clear that they know the fray they're stepping into: "Too often, colorful anecdotes about individuals who have had unfortunate experiences capture the spotlight and lead to inaccurate generalizations about the dangers of making this major life investment," they write.

The last iteration of the report, released in 2007, was publicly criticized by Charles Miller, the former chairman of the federal Commission on the Future of Higher Education, who wrote a response letter taking issue with the report's methodology, which he said overinflated the value of a degree.

The College Board is a membership organization representing colleges, and its mission is "to connect students to college success and opportunity." As Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, puts it, "the College Board is not in the business of turning people away from college."

Despite that mission, Sandy Baum, an independent analyst for the College Board and one of the report's authors, says that "Education Pays" is about data, not advocacy. "This report per se is presenting evidence," says Ms. Baum, who also writes for The Chronicle on its Innovations blog. "We're not telling anyone to do anything."

And she wonders a bit about the criticism surrounding the report's finding that college graduates fare much better than nongraduates. "When people talk about 'well, maybe people shouldn't go to college,'" she says, "ask the people if their kids go to college."

Even Mr. Miller, who says the report greatly overstates the benefit of a degree, doesn't take that to mean people shouldn't go to college. Instead, he sees that as evidence that higher education's financial system is broken.

The report's findings will be no great surprise to anyone who has read the previous installments. Education, it finds, does pay.

Over the course of a 40-year career, the average college graduate earns about 66 percent more than the typical high-school graduate, and those with advanced degrees earn two to three times as much as a high-school graduate, according to the report.

Unlike previous reports, this time around the College Board did not include a dollar figure to show how much money college graduates earn over a lifetime compared with nongraduates. The 2007 report said that college graduates earn up to $800,000 more over a career than nongraduates, a figure that climbs to $1-million with the inclusion of advanced-degree holders. When taking into consideration that some of those earnings are in the future, the bachelor's-degree holder earns an additional $450,000 in today's dollars, or $570,000 when including advanced-degree holders. Those figures were taken out of context, Ms. Baum says, which is why no equivalent numbers were used this time around.

The Value Debate

"The point is, yes, you make more going to college. There's no question about it," says Mr. Vedder, who is a professor of economics at Ohio University and also writes for Innovations. The question is whether the report adequately accounts for those who do not graduate, he says.

The report does show the expected lifetime earnings of students who begin college but do not complete an associate or bachelor's degree, finding that they earn more than high-school graduates but less than degree holders.

"There is evidence that there is a payoff to every year of education," Ms. Baum says. "On average, every year of education does pay off. Every year pays off more than the year before." But those are averages, she adds—that doesn't make taking on $30,000 in loans and then dropping out after six months a good idea.

The financial value of a degree depends heavily on what that degree is in and where it is earned, says Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. That's because what a student majors in decides her occupation, which decides her earnings, he says: "There is no job called 'B.A.'"

At the same time, Mr. Carnevale adds, having a postsecondary degree does lead to higher earnings within an occupation, at least through the bachelor's degree.

Another point of contention—and a moving target—in the value debate is the time and the expense required to earn a bachelor's degree. The new College Board report considers this and finds that by age 33, the typical college graduate has earned enough money to compensate for taking four years out of the labor force and for borrowing the entire cost of tuition and fees at the typical public college.

Mr. Miller continues to take issue with the assumptions used in "Education Pays." For example, he says, the report combines GED recipients and high-school graduates into one group, which pulls down the high-school graduates' earnings, as GED holders tend not to fare as well. Ms. Baum agrees that this isn't ideal, but she says getting separate figures for the two groups is impossible.

Mr. Miller also disputes the authors' decision to assume that students go to a public college and graduate in four years, because a significant minority of students go to private schools, and because many students do not graduate on time. It would take longer to pay back the cost of a more-expensive private-college degree, Ms. Baum agrees, but all that means is the crossover point happens a year or two later for students who attend independent colleges. And many students who don't graduate on time work and are not full-time students.

While some of her assumptions may favor colleges, she says, others—like that students don't work or receive grant aid—are unfavorable from the institutions' perspective.

In addition to earnings data, the report highlights that college graduates are less likely to be unemployed. In 2009, the unemployment rate for those 25 and older with at least a four-year college degree was 4.6 percent, compared with 9.7 percent among high-school graduates in the same age group. Still, a college degree is no guarantee of a job, Ms. Baum says: Nothing is. But having one increases a person's employment chances.

Not Just Money

The benefits of a college degree are not only financial. The report points out other positive outcomes that correlate to having earned a college degree: Graduates are more likely to vote, to volunteer, and to exercise, and less likely to smoke or to be obese. While the report focuses on correlations, other research, some of which is highlighted in the report, shows that education itself is one cause for these behaviors, Ms. Baum says.

Mr. Carnevale is skeptical. He thinks most of the nonfinancial benefits of education boil down to social class: "When you stand on the stage and they give you the degree, how did you become healthier? Was it because you walked up the stairs?"

But Mark Kantrowitz is fascinated by the idea of an education-health connection. While there may be a selection bias that explains part of the overlap between people likely to go to college and those likely to be healthy, it's possible to account for at least some of those factors, says Mr. Kantrowitz, publisher of the Web site FinAid, which provides student-aid information to families. And, he says, he suspects that college graduates make better health choices, in part, because they're better informed. "It's nice to say if you graduate with a four-year degree, you won't just be wealthier, you'll also be healthier."


1. jnadler - September 21, 2010 at 07:51 am

Interesting lead in for the article: a PR problem? That begs the question: Maybe universities could start high pressure advertising, like truck, beer and cigarette companies do, in order to boost enrollment.

I put forth: Universities raise tuition rates for the same reason a dog barks: THEY CAN.

2. saswriter - September 21, 2010 at 08:53 am

I am now printing this article to show to my 22-year-old on the five-and-a-half-year plan. I'm hoping that she'll not only finish college but quit smoking, too.

3. kard10 - September 21, 2010 at 09:04 am

"Graduates are...less likely...to be obese." For all your research, facts, and figures, you can't figure out at least one plausible reason why this might be? Might there just possibly be a correlation between the lower or non-existent salaries of the less "formally" educated and the high cost of REAL food as opposed to cheaply boxed, canned, and wrapped chemical crap? The cheap food alternatives, which are all one might be able to afford to give the body the sense it has taken in fuel for itself cannot be properly utilized by the body, the toxins of which become trapped within the body, bloating the body, eventually leading not only to weight gain, but ill health. My "formal" education extended only through one year of college at a state university, but since the Living God already created all things good and has done and still does an excellent job relaying to His/Her people how to use or NOT use what has been created for the maintenance and health of the body, I figure I can learn just a wee bit by listening and heeding the Living God in my choices of fuel for my body, despite the cost. There are also more than a few books and documentaries on the subjects of REAL FOODS as opposed to lab-created fake food and the economics of it all for the intellects among you--you know--that lifelong learning thing.

4. molneck - September 21, 2010 at 09:47 am

Given decades of research attempting to disentangle the causal effects of education attainment on income from the spurious effects due to omitted variable bias, or, put non-technically,due to the fact that individuals with more schooling differ from those with less in ways that may directly affect income, why is the College Board reporting unadjusted ratios of the earnings of college graduates to those without college degrees?

Without controls for measured and unmeasured aspects of family background, "ability" prior to entering college, and non-cognitive traits prior to entering college, these results are not credible. If the biases with which I am concerned are minimal, say so, but at least alert readers to the problem.

5. lhthomas - September 21, 2010 at 10:29 am

I'm no statistician, but using averages seems to hopelessly skew the data. Or am I the only advanced degree holder who surely could make more money if I were a hair stylist or other skilled worker than I do as a full-time contingent faculty member?

6. euthini - September 21, 2010 at 10:45 am

I think that since education helps not just the student that acquires it but the community and society to say nothing about the tax and quality of life so that people don't spend money on things that shortens life expectacy, we should make higher education more attractive so that many people should want and afford to go for it. Make more affordable and pay them handsomely once they qualify.

7. swish - September 21, 2010 at 10:56 am

To saswriter and lhthomas: I had my doubts about college when I was a student, graduated on the 5-1/2 year plan myself, and then got a masters degree. I probably shouldn't have.

I've been continuously employed, thank goodness, but my 25 years of employment have so far earned me less than $800,000, lifetime total. (Fortunately, I got scholarships and a good loan that I was able to pay off quickly, so I had no burdensome debt.) By my projections, it doesn't seem likely that I'll end up earning $800,000 -- or even $500,000 -- more than I would have without the degree! I might well have been better off without the credentials.

I do vote and volunteer, and I'm not overweight. But as writer #4, molneck, points out (and thanks for the sharp observations, molneck), those things probably would have probably been true of me whether I'd attended college or not.

Sure, your daughter should probably stick it out. But there are many other factors that contribute to (or interfere with) people's success; it's not guaranteed by a few letters after one's name, nor precluded by the lack of them.

8. kemetivier - September 21, 2010 at 11:07 am

There are so many variables that go into this, it's ridiculous. I had the "eqivalent" of 3 BAs after graduation, and one of my three part-time jobs was working on a loading dock at Sears. I had to pay the bare-bone minimum of my many student loans, and eventually went back to school for a BS, which I didn't complete. I just happened to answer an ad for a job in a totally unrelated field, several years after my graduation.

Including myself, I know several people that attained their degrees, whether in 4, 5, or 6 years, that have had to eat Ramen noodles, dodge their landlords, and pay rent money with tips and change from the couch cushions.

My work-ethic and a willingness to learn new things and not be afraid to venture outside my "area of expertise" are indicative of my salary so much more so than my BA in Political Science. Part of me gets the feeling these "studies" are more propaganda and advertising than anything truly telling.

9. babbalouie - September 21, 2010 at 11:11 am

To jnadler: That was no question begging in your comment. By the way, only salespeople are high pressure -- not advertising -- and I think colleges and universities have plenty of them. They're called presidents and admissions counselors.

10. la_profesora - September 21, 2010 at 11:12 am

I agree with what (I think) molneck is trying to say: The problem with all of these kinds of studies (and the question I always ask myself about any finding) is: is independent variable x---in this case a college education---just a proxy for the socioeconomic status you start from, which is probably the greatest determinant of your future earnings? Are we seeing the benefits of higher education here, or are we really seeing the effects of social and economic capital being passed from generation to generation among the affluent?

11. mayan - September 21, 2010 at 11:44 am

Higher education is like an arms race. In an arms race, the outcomes are asymmetrical. If you maintain parity with the enemey, its a stalemate - you don't see any return on your investment. But if you fall behind, you get conquered.

The parallel to higher ed is that there is no visible payoff for the investment, but rather the cost of not making the investment is devastating. If you earn a college degree, the odds are you will have at least a moderate standard of living and a lucky few will get wealthy. But without that degree, you will live on the edge of poverty most of your adult life.

The link to obesity is not surprising. Completely college takes a combination of relatively good health and discipline, which is obviously correlated with not being overweight.

12. jdoylesan - September 21, 2010 at 12:36 pm

I'm saddened but not surprised by several of the supposedly educated poster's comments here describing their individual experience (or a small group of friends) with education and resulting salaries and then using that as the basis of criticism for the study. Statements to the effect that "since I am not making a lot of money because of my education / three degrees / yadayadayda, this study must have a political motivation driving the results."

These comments are no different than those who claim a big snow storm is "evidence" that global warming is not a fact.

Word of advise to those who fall into this category--do yourself and others a favor and take an Introduction to Statistics course. It will help.

13. dvacchi - September 21, 2010 at 12:37 pm

#7 - To illustrate 40 years times $40,000 is $1.6M - if you are not going to earn $500K in your work life, then you are making $12,500 per year or less. Something in your math doesn't work out as I doubt you would subscribe or even look at the Chronicle if you made that little. Maybe you misspoke and meant to say that you will not earn $800K more than a non-college graduate?

But I would agree with the larger point that college degrees to create situations that are generally advantageous to the degree holder, particularly the point that society benefits.
Several of the squeaky wheels here prove the author's point that we too often highlight some instances (possibly like #7) that suggest the contrary. But this is why it was wise to take out the average salary numbers (which for various reasons are irrelevant). I would venture a guess that a lot of people without college degrees vote and are healthy (red herrings) but the likelihood of being an unhealthy non-voter (aka a potential drain on society) may be higher in the less educated population.
Either way, the point is in college these days you are much more likely to be exposed to healthier habits than you might be at a Sears loading dock and that most people who complete an advanced degree will fare better in many respects that those who don't. It really doesn't even require research, it should be tacit knowledge to most.

14. freddel - September 21, 2010 at 01:39 pm

The comparisons of income as a function of degrees attained rarely take into account the intellectual capacity of the individuals involved in the study. Part of the dollar value attributed to a degree includes the native intelligence of the individual. The relevant measure of the degree's worth is the value added to lifetime income streams when controlling for intelligence. Smarter people go to college, but would probably earn a higher lifetime income than a high school graduate even if they entered the labor force without a degree and subsequently earned higher compensation through merit, job performance and experience.

Of course PhD and MD degrees out earn BA degrees, due to the screening process that usually rewards more capable individuals. One also has to account for the prestige of the college or university that grants the degree. Undergraduate and graduate programs differ in the reputation of the faculty and the rigorousness of their educational curricula.

15. 3224243 - September 21, 2010 at 01:44 pm

Since getting my PhD in 2003, I have made more money (in those seven years) than I did in the 34 previous years combined. I would not have been able to advance in my chosen field without a college education.

16. swish - September 21, 2010 at 01:57 pm

dvacchi (#13): You misread what I wrote. I said I had not yet, in 25 years of post-grad employment, reached $800,000 in lifetime earnings. Began in 1985 at something like $14,500. I may or may not work another 15 years.

I know perfectly well why I'm not earning big bucks: I simply don't have the kind of personality that earns big bucks. I can't imagine I'd have become wealthy no matter what I'd done. And that's actually okay; I'm not moaning about my salary all the time. I'm pretty content with it. But I do think I could've done as well or perhaps better without college. And I might have found a career that is a better fit for me, as well.

Do I deny that most college grads do better financially than non-grads? Of course not. The issue is, how much of the benefit is due to the degree itself, and how much of it is due to other factors that led them to get the degree in the first place?

Young people should know themselves and trust themselves. When I was in high school, I knew myself very well, but instead of trusting myself, I listened to my parents and advisors. I did fine in college, too, as predicted ... but getting good grades and thriving in an academic workplace are two different things.

Should everyone in this country get bachelors degrees, all our bus drivers and postal carriers and construction workers and sales people? Are these jobs not valuable? Can we do without them? Who will fill these jobs? Illegal immigrants?

Why should we not encourage people to be themselves and pursue the jobs where their talents lie, and be proud of it? (And pay them enough to live on without hardship, too?)

To 3224243 (#15): Your chosen field was one for which a college education made sense. Presumably you chose it because it was right for you. People like you absolutely benefit from college. But people are not all alike, thank goodness, and different people have different abilities and needs.

17. veritasconsulting57 - September 21, 2010 at 03:50 pm

There comes a time when we have to separate statistics from common sense. This is one of those moments and I am rather puzzled that many of those on this thread are bashing their educational experiences as if they had absolutely nothing to do with their current situation. Who guided you in securing the degree? What is your current networking skills? DO you belong to an alumni base? Have you joined a professional organization? There are so many avenues to go with a college degree and/or advanced degree ( I am not even going to delve into the racial areas in obtaining a higher education).

Historically, in order for a group of citizens to aspire to any level, education must be the foundation of its process. Furthermore, it is pretty well known that if you are not educated, you suffer more. Now, we can debate whether going to college and graduating makes you educated, but I will always advocate for a college degree and the experience because from an egotistical point of view, there's something to be said when you have toiled endlessly for a period of time and being "rewarded" with a degree that could open many doors for you; especially if you hail from a family where you would be the first person to graduate from college.

C'mon people, folks in India, China and other countries are probably looking at this and saying to themselves: "No wonder their students are unmotivated:" and then continues to emabarrass us in several areas.

Thus, the benefits of obtaining a college degree has quantitative AND qualitative benefits, but to simply get a degree and expect the world riches would be naive because it simply does not work that way. There's a strategy that goes into your academic journey and unfortunately many of us "wake up" when it is too late or we realize that we pursued an academic degree because "Grandpa Bill" would be proud of us.

However, my conspiracy spider sense believes that this might also be a fear tactic being used to discourage a group of people from obtaining college degrees. Why? Brown v. Board of Ed, The Little Rock 9, were all cases where many people risked their lives to secure education for those that would come afterwards. However, many have managed to obtain college education and that might cause a sense of xenpophobia for the ruling class, so they publish such articles to somehow "discourage" the powerless and the ignorant who would use this as another silly excuse NOT to pursue higher ed. This of course would continue to allow the ruling class to exert power over the aformentioned group, because let's face it, a college edcuation is one of those areas that make you "enlightened," and we cannot be blind enough to believe that the ruling class wants the powerless and ignorant to be college educated. If that were to occur, these same people would recognize their plight and perhaps rebel.

Perhaps, this is far fetched, but I have been around long enough to know that very few things happen by accident. So to my colleagues out there who believe that college education could be a waste of time, they should spend their time asking all those people who WANTED to go to college but COULD NOT because of the institutional realities in this country.

To those of us who have withered the storm and now stand with college degrees and advanced degrees, we do know that the process was far from perfect, but here we stand with accomplishments that some people never had a chance to achieve. However, it is on their shoulders that our elevation to such a status was even possible. Let's honor them by rethinking the system and creating more opportunities for others who should be able to at least have the OPTION to obtain a college education.


18. dank48 - September 21, 2010 at 04:43 pm

That's "in vino veritas," and I wonder if we can expect college grads to be more photogenic than nongrads. I bet college grads tend to be a lot more docile than nongrads. By definition, if in no more obvious sense.

Too bad Bill Gates didn't get a chance to graduate from college; he might have been financially successful.

19. veritasconsulting57 - September 21, 2010 at 04:52 pm

Bill Gates is a poor example because he came from wealth (please check what his father did for a living)...so when you come from wealth, your options and threhsold for "failure" is more flexible so you cannot compare Bill Gates' "failure" to get a college education to the rest of mankind. As far as you using the Kodak moment examples, I have no idea what you are referring to..You say tomato, I say tomatoE.. Blame my college education on that one ;-))))))


20. fizmath - September 21, 2010 at 05:22 pm

I would like to see someone compile data that shows the Net Present Value of lifetime expected net earnings, after taxes and any expenses related to work. Factor in cost of school, interest on loans, lost earnings while in school, expected layoffs, moving expenses, etc.

21. veritasconsulting57 - September 21, 2010 at 06:15 pm

Why do I get the feeling that your college experiences were very macabre? If your expectations of college was a flawed one, does that mean that we should throw the baby with the bath water? So you want to forecast everything, so why not give you a crystal ball too. That's the beauty of life, you make predictions, take calculated risks, learn from your mistakes and keep it moving. I am very convinced now that the value of education within your own family as well as your community might be corelated with how successful you become in college (all factors constant). In addition, I would dare say that for those of us who literally WORKED full time and went to school part time, we might probably view this argument differently...where are all my blue collared workers who did not grow up with a golden spoon in their mouths and still believe that an education is one of the primary vehicles towards success?????


22. swish - September 21, 2010 at 06:26 pm

Veritas: I do believe that education is one of the primary vehicles for success ... for many people.

I dunno about others who oppose the "college for all" notion, but from me there's no conspiracy to keep the lower class down, no intent to badmouth my education or its value, no disagreement on the value of working hard for something and being rewarded. I favor all people who truly want a college degree being helped to get one in any way possible.

I'm just saying that a college degree and the career that goes with it is not the *only* thing to which people -- even smart people -- might reasonably aspire. There are other kinds of work that bring satisfaction and reward, aside from academic work and careers that arise from it.

I *am* concerned that academically-talented and -motivated poor or first-generation immigrant kids may be discouraged from going to college because of costs or expectations. But my comments were mainly concerned with middle-(or "higher"-)class kids like me, indoctrinated from birth to consider themselves college-bound no matter what, for whom the stigma of choosing an alternative path is practically too great to overcome.

(Like, for instance, who knows what greatness George W. Bush might have achieved if only he hadn't been pushed, so terribly inappropriately, to attend Yale!)

But let's forget socio-economic class. No young person, regardless of class, should feel pressured to make decisions they feel are wrong for themselves, whether that decision tends to satisfy the expectations of others or to defy them.

Secondary schools should give kids the opportunity to discover their talents and their calling, from philosophy to shop class. If they're still uncertain, it might not be a bad idea to take some time off before committing themselves to a college and a major. There should always be opportunities to reconsider their commitments. And whatever they decide, they should not be stigmatized.

So, I'm sorry if my genuine belief in individuality can be taken for, or used to further, racist or elitist brands of exclusion. But I'm just as opposed to pushing people into college as I am to keeping people out.

23. barbarapiper - September 21, 2010 at 06:33 pm

@jnadler: That's not what 'to beg the question' means.

@dank48: Bill Gates is a good example of the value of college: at Harvard he had access to computing technology that fueled his passion for the subject, and he interacted with a community of computer geeks who could support that interest. If, on the other hand, he graduated from high school and got a job as a mechanic at the local garage, he might make a decent blue-collar salary, but we wouldn't be cursing Windows for crashing so often.

Besides, you know that extreme cases make bad policy. Perhaps that was a lecture you missed -- in college?

24. new_theologian - September 21, 2010 at 06:34 pm

I don't see anyone asking what, to me, seems like the real question. Does BEING EDUCATED in the sense of having become an interiorly more complex and expansive, interested and interesting person, capable of reflecting on his own and others' presuppositions, make a person more likely to earn more money, or to succeed in other ways, or is it, as veritasconsulting57 holds explicitly and some others suggest only implicitly, that it is the power of the social structure of the degree-award that leads to this success. Is it because people become more interiorly "rich" that they become more materially wealthy, or is it because they gradually come to approximate some social power archetype?

Whatever the case, until a study exposes the differences in earnings according to at least the major divisions in academia--professional programs, medical programs, social sciences, liberal arts, etc.--I can't see how any general statements can be deemed useful. Also, the difference in costs between public institutions and private is MUCH more significant than the author suggests, in most cases. It's way more than "a few years more unil the crossover point." Maybe it's a LOT more years, or, if you go on for a doctorate, NEVER, depending upon your field, where you go to school, and how much you had to take out in student loans. We can't just tell people, "Go out and earn a Ph.D. in history. The longer you go to school the better off you'll be financially. Sure, it might take you ten years of full-time study and lost income, and it might cost you a total of $250,000 by the time you pay for your private four-year college and your private graduate programs, but you'll make that money back by the time you're 33 years old . . . O.K., 36 'cause it's private school--but then it'll all be gravy from there on out." Seriously? I doubt it.

25. veritasconsulting57 - September 21, 2010 at 07:09 pm

Therein liest the dilemma, you are ignoring one of the primary tenets of education, CLASS. While your utopian ideals are something noteworthy, you have to realize that for many higher education is the ONLY way out of poverty and hopelessness. How can you become an individual when the community you come from is everything that the American Dream is not suppose to be? How do you foster a sense of hope for many who believe that they are hopeless?

As far as secondary schools rethinking their approaches to colleges, that is also something to discuss but it would be a hard sell in many areas, especially urban areas. Can you imagine a secondary school principal selling that ideas to parents who are working two to three jobs to secure a college fund for their children?

Having worked in urban education/education reform, I could share with you the lessons that I have learned along the way:

1. All students aspire to do better, regardless of race, class, and socioeconmic status. The problem is the STRATEGIES that are developed in them to meet such a feat.

2. Quality education is important to all children, but unfortunately our educational system is so skewed that we are probably more segregated now than pre Borwn v. Board of Ed.

3. Educational reform is something that NEEDS to occur because we are losing too many students and we are never asking ourselves WHERE they are going if they are not in school.

4. Special Ed and Bilingual education should be a part of the reform agenda because they have historically been ignored without paying attention to such ramifications.

Please review how much $$$ Americans spend on education (I am not even going to mention the offensive amount of money textbook companies charge for one freakin' book), and you will see why so many of us forge forward towards education.

I do agree with you though that college education is NOT for everyone but like I had stated NO guidance counselor or school district would ever want to be in a position for steering students away from college. It is a slippery slope that not only has legal implications but moral ones as well.

All students should be given an opportunity to attend college and if they decide not to explore that option, the issue then becomes WHAT would they do? Whatever choice they make, should at minimum equate some academic discipline in a college atmosphere.

I just come from a different part of the world where even a high school education is a luxury, and many of my friends walked miles and miles just to be educated on a grammar school level. Where the classroom would sometimes have over 50 students and ONE teacher. So, my hunger for education and those who at least have that option to refuse it is worthy of me offering a voice of dissent.

Do we need to rethink how we educate, of course? The literacy rate in this country is shameful and during the course of my career, I had seen so many students that can't read or worst spell their own names. Such a sad state of affairs warrant a re-examination.

Lastly, remember that in our economy such as ours, you really have a certain window to get an education. In addition, if you are planning on having children and marrying, that complicates the equation. Lastly, I am not sure how many women out there would even consider someone that did not have a college education (you would be suprise as to how that ONE factor could kill a date..because remember that every woman has that one friend that has no boyfriend but is an expert on relationships ;-))))

So, I hear ya on many fronts, but what education has done for me and my colleagues cannot be quantified because it has allowed us to be competitive in the market place and at least "convince" some hiring managers that we at least are worthy of consideration. It might not be fair, but I will never tell someone to take such a gamble (if he/she has an opportunity to attend college).

Remember swish that education gets your foot into the door, perseverance gets you a seat at the table, and luck/miracle determines how long you stay at the table. Colleges have not mastered the art of keeping you at the table; that is an accomplishment that would be entirely based on you....


26. trendisnotdestiny - September 23, 2010 at 09:39 am

A lot of very good comments and insight here! The only piece I would add, hesitantly, relates to the affect of globalization on the overall economy (changing the value of a college degree in this time and context).

First, the number of well-paying non-corporate jobs ($100K or more) is going to decrease over time. Baby-boomers are swiftly moving into retirement age. We have changed our economy from a manufacturing-based to financial/services economy. And cheap credit and consumption will no longer fuel our GDP ascent like it had in the 80's-90's. This will be managed by paying fewer highly skilled workers more.

Second, by virtue of seeking employment in post-2008 financial crisis world, that the worth of a college edcuation may not be as measurably valuable as most think. The game and resources have changed for a number of reasons. Debt is unsustainable at every level: consumer, state/local, government, and private sector. Also, the resources that we will need to manage downturns will be increasingly expensive: water, oil, food, education (K-12 & Higher Ed), and healthcare of an aging population. So, as a result, prices rise in an inflationary market to get the same services. When you combine this with our already remarkable debt loads,now you have the law of diminishing returns.... less upward mobility and the real implications of the yolk of debt.

Now I hear some of you hemming and hawing about the alternative of not getting an over-priced, indebting education. OK, well Paul Krugman, some 5 years ago, remarked that America in a global economy seems to not be able to recognize itself. Many (institutions, communities, families, and individuals) are still operating out of the old narrative of superpower/leaders of the world type stuff. This narrative or self-reflection could not be more wrong (especially in areas where we have de-emphasized our resources. Krugman points out that the main benefactors in this transition for Americans to one world market is frought with a levelling off of all of our standard of livings. What if we are not challenging the embedded belief that going to college will pay off in the end (do we really know this at this time?)

What we do know is that Americans are under-educated, over-priced and under-skilled in comparison to India, China, Brazil, Russia (BRIC countries) with many up-and-coming economies in asia (vietnam, south korea and singapore/malaysia) competing more effectively than the US... What this means is that the powers-that-be realize that there is a scarcity of American workers to feed the global economy's needs and have cut out all those supports (The New Deal Programs) that in their mind will be poorly spent anyway. Instead they see the path as entrepreneurial (using higher education as a gateway to capture the next big market beyong oil). This is a bit of a gamble.

This is and has been an amazing transfer of risk onto an unsuspecting public who still is trying to convince theirselves that the benefits of college, American meritocracy and a globalized system still work. Have we outsourced so much that the social darwins of the day can point to the students and say they'll have to sink or swim (that's capitalism)?

I am not convinced that a college education is either necessary or useless at this point. What I am convinced of is that very bright people from IVY league schools scuttled this financial economy and are selling us a new privatized solution to compete in the realities of the global marketplace. This sounds a lot like a keeping up with global-jones in terms of accreditation and less about the conseuqences of massive debt in an inflationary economy affecting families wealth and income.....

We (some) have prospered as country for a long time relative to the world. The ebb and flow nature of capital that doesn't sleep means that money can flow away from the US for a long time. We need to prepare our children to not take on debt than to hope that it will eventually payoff at some point in the future (unless your labor feeds the global marketplace's profit maching)

Would enjoy hearing your thoughts!

27. swish - September 23, 2010 at 03:19 pm

OH. I thought I was finished, but I just noticed comment 23 said: "Bill Gates is a good example of the value of college."

Bill Gates dropped out of college.

28. greenhills73 - September 23, 2010 at 05:21 pm

I think the majority of graduates will find some value in their education, economic and otherwise. There are always exceptions and my oldest son is one. He dropped out after three semesters and went on to earn a six-figure salary in his mid-20s, but he is exceptionally gifted in his field and he saw college as a waste of his time and money. Most people won't be so lucky.

29. barbarapiper - September 25, 2010 at 09:33 am

27 @swish -- for goodness sake, the point was that his success is attributable to attending college and his experiences there, not specifically to being a college graduate -- surely that was clear. The larger point -- and obviously it needs to be spelled out -- is that the value of 'college' needs to be measured in more nuanced terms than merely the value of a degree in the job market.

30. swish - September 29, 2010 at 10:46 am

You are right, Barbara, I was sleepy and not reading carefully and missed the point. College does provide an environment for growth and discovery, as well as learning that enriches one as a human being. (It certainly did those things for me, too.)

But if Gates and other successful college dropouts benefitted mainly from time and freedom, to think and experiment and collaborate without the regimentation of family and secondary school ... well, is college the *only* place where that can happen? And if so, why should it be?

It's probably the case that everyone who attends college for any period of time comes away with *some* benefit, some exposure to something of value, whether that value ends up translating into monetary gain or not. But we all have to make trade-offs, and I maintain that the benefits are often not worth the investment of time and money that students put into it.

31. barbarapiper - September 30, 2010 at 10:33 am

30 @swish -- You comment "I maintain that the benefits are often not worth the investment of time and money that students put into it," a nicely ambiguous cliam that cannot possibly be false, since terms such as "benefits" and "often" are left undefined. Not that I disagree -- my simple point about Bill Gates was that the rather snide suggestion that he'd be really successful if he were a college graduate, made by dank48, is undermined by the fact that Gates did in fact "benefit" from his time at school -- dank48 needs a better model.

The real problem with this topic is that it is used as a way to critique colleges, by suggesting that the benefits may not be worth the cost. No, no, no -- this should be a critique of those students who attend college when they should not, don't work to gain the benefits of college while they are there, and end up in jobs that they could have had without the time and expense of college. Don't make it about colleges. It's about student responsibilities.

32. swish - October 01, 2010 at 11:54 am

Right, I also disagree with the critique that there's something wrong with how colleges are educating students or what they are teaching (although I'm sure there are cases of that, too) that causes students to drop out or fail or flounder under massive debt or otherwise do poorly in life. Some students -- capable students -- *are* irresponsible, blowing off classes, missing opportunities to pay down debt, partying instead of studying (in which case I'd suggest that a year or two off before starting college might help). But then there are also those for whom college is simply not the best fit.

The "college for all" mentality is so pervasive, it is hard for young people, just out of high school, to judge for themselves. In #25, above, veritasconsulting57 admits that "NO guidance counselor or school district would ever want to be in a position for steering students away from college." Few parents or teachers would either, in this country, in this day and age.

"Stay in school, kid" used to just mean "get a high school diploma"; now organizations run PSAs about the importance of college. Politicians throw it into their speeches, hoping to appeal to parents. "I want every single one of you to attend college," they might say to a classroom, without ever having met or spoken to a single person in their audience.

At least when I enrolled in college, it wasn't because I had any illusions of a lucrative career -- on the contrary, the message I got was that college was the only place to meet a suitable mate, and to "have something to fall back on" in case I didn't, since a woman had little chance of being able to live independently, with or without a college degree.

That message was certainly false (and depressing!), but the incredibly over-optimistic messages kids are receiving today can be even more damaging. And I bet that, like me, kids today -- inexperienced and rather isolated from the world outside their homes and schools and social networks -- are poorly equipped to judge what they hear from their parents and guidance counselors and teachers and decide how those messages apply to them.

It's amazing how well-meaning experts to overlook the declining value of a credential that more and more entry-level jobseekers possess. Instead of distinguishing you from the pack, the college diploma makes you look the same as everyone else. If you're smart and motivated and have an academic "calling," your transcript and knowledge can make you look good to an employer. But if you're just in college for the sake of the diploma, you might be better off pursuing an apprenticeship, or a stint in the Peace Corps, or anything that won't cost thousands of dollars and end up pointing you in the wrong direction in life.

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