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Is College Worth the Cost? Growing Number of Americans Say ‘No’

Despite data providing evidence that unemployment rates are lower for those with a college degree, and that lifetime earnings are higher for those with a college degree, an increasing number of Americans do not believe college is worth the cost.

Here are some of the highlights of a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of 1.200 people regarding their attitude toward college:

  • 49 percent of Americans said that a four-year degree is worth the cost, while 47 percent said that it is not. Four years ago, 53 percent of Americans said that a four-year degree is worth the cost, while just 40 percent said that it is not.
  • Among 18-34 year olds, just 39 percent say that a four-year degree is worth the cost, while 57 percent disagree. Just four years ago, those numbers were flipped.
  • Those most likely to say that a four-year degree is not worth the cost include rural dwellers (66 percent), white working class Americans (65 percent) and those with only some college (58 percent) or only a high school education or less (55 percent).
  • Those most likely to call higher education a good investment include those with a college degree (61 percent – talk about confirmation bias!) or a postgraduate degree (66 percent), high income earners (60 percent), and non-whites. (56 percent).
  • The data also show a gender gap in views of the value of a four-year degree. Fifty-three percent of men say a college degree is not worth the cost, while just 41 percent of women say the same.
  • Forty-three percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans believe that a college degree is not worth the cost.

There’s a couple of other potential reasons for these shifting attitudes towards college besides the cost.

  • A growing number of students believe that college is not necessary for many jobs, such as a trade. These students can learn a trade and start earning money long before their peers complete college.
  • The job market is strong at this moment in time, so students without a college degree are finding it easier to find a job. When the job market is weak, such students may opt to go to college.

Some colleges are trying to respond to such results through marketing campaigns designed to show the multiple benefits of attending college, besides the higher earning potential and better job security.

I realize I’m a little biased on the subject, since I’ve been a college teacher for over 31 years, but I think college is worth it, for most people.

Besides getting students ready for a career, college is a great opportunity to gain an appreciation for culture and history and the great thinkers. I believe it is through discussion of these types of topics that society moves forward.

We also need to do a better job getting students ready for college, and we need to make it more affordable. If we can see progress in those two areas, I am sure that people will have a more favorable opinion of the value of a college degree.

And one other key part of the solution would be much better use of community colleges, which I consider the hidden gem of our system of higher ed.

I’m already looking forward to what the new survey in 2021 will show us…

*photo from Real Simple

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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