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Sunday, October 23, 2016

By Liz Weston

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – For a nation that needs more college graduates, we seem oddly hellbent on discouraging as many people as possible from getting degrees.

We have not been able to contain the ever-rising cost, simplify needlessly complicated financial aid forms or protect lower-income aspirants from the for-profit colleges that want to fleece them. Then there are all the media stories questioning the worth of a college degree.

The latest headlines, prompted by a multiyear survey on attitudes toward college conducted by pollster Gallup and Purdue University (, provide breathtaking examples

“Less than half of recent grads think college was worth the cost.”

“Just half of graduates say their education was worth the cost.”

“Recent grads doubt college’s worth.”

You might be surprised to learn, then, that the actual poll of 30,000 college alumni found that the vast majority of college graduates agreed that their education was worth the cost. Recent graduates were less enthusiastic than older graduates, but only the recent graduates who took out more than $50,000 in loans were unlikely to agree that their degrees were worth what they paid.

The grads in the national online survey were asked to rate on a 1-to-5 scale whether their educations were worth the cost, with 1 meaning “strongly disagree” and 5 “strongly agree.”

Nationally, 77 percent agreed, answering with a “4” (27 percent) or a “5” (50 percent).

Among those who graduated between 2006 and 2015, some 65 percent agreed their educations were worth the cost, with 27 percent choosing “4” and 38 percent responding with a “5.”

Brandon Busteed, Gallup’s executive director for education and workforce development, said his team expected more people to strongly agree that their educations were worthwhile.

“It was surprising to me that it wasn’t higher than that,” Busteed said. “It doesn’t mean that half of the people think their education wasn’t worth it.”

The reduced conviction among recent graduates is hardly surprising. Those grads emerged with more debt and poorer employment prospects due to a struggling economy. As the debt gets paid off and their earnings rise, they may have a change of heart.


They also will have a chance to witness what happens to their peers who have only high school degrees as an already-substantial earnings gap continues to widen.

High school graduates earn about 62 percent of what those with four-year degrees earn, according to a Pew Research Center study. In 1979, people with only high school educations earned 77 percent of what college graduates made.

It is not that college graduates are earning so much more, but that the incomes and economic opportunities for high-school-only graduates have collapsed.

It is true that many people pay too much for college. That shows up in the higher levels of dissatisfaction found among graduates of for-profit colleges and those with $50,000 or more in student loans. Thirteen percent of the for-profit grads and 18 percent of the deeply indebted grads strongly disagreed with the statement that their educations were worth the cost, compared with the national average of 4 percent.

Increased amounts of debt also make it more likely graduates have delayed goals such as going back to school for more education, buying a home or buying a car, the index found.

The bottom line is that most educations are not worth having to take on massive debt. In addition, not everyone needs a four-year degree. Some people with bachelor’s degrees do not earn very much, and may have been better off learning a trade or obtaining a two-year degree.

But virtually everyone should consider some post-secondary training if they do not want to fall down the economic ladder. And that is the message we should be sending, loud and clear.

(The author is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Matthew Lewis)

Graduates celebrate receiving a Masters in Business Administration from Columbia University during the year’s commencement ceremony in New York in this May 18, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Chip East/Files

  • mpjt16

    Unfortunately the for profit schools promise too much and deliver too little, except plenty of debt. They should not even be called colleges or Universities. And, on the other end of the spectrum, if you had to go Ivy and you had to borrow to cover the costs and you didn’t excel in the classroom, you might be a bit disillusioned too.
    Obama’s proposal to cover the first two years of post high school is an excellent one. One of the greatest things the country ever did was the post WWII GI Bill. That educated an entire generation on the government dole. For those who were in Vietnam, the same great program was in place. It is different for GIs now but still offers a great way to get ahead.

  • Otto Greif

    Too many go to college, and post-high school education needs to be restructured.

  • Elliot J. Stamler

    As one with two university degrees I would say that while the situation with the cost of college is scandalous that there in fact are too many young folks coerced into seeking an academic higher education who would be much better suited to taking vocational and trade courses for the many occupations that are both well-paying and needful of employees.

    • Theodora30

      I agree but I also think a broad-based education (not just job training) is important for everyone, not just for personal growth but also for preparing people to be effective citizens in our democracy. Kids should be getting that kind of education in K-12. Instead we are obsessing about preparing them for tech jobs.
      A traditional liberal arts approach to education which gives students a grounding in the humanities as well as science and math is the kind of education our greatest Founding Fathers had. Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, etc. were interested in philosophy, history as well as science. Franklin was known throughout the developed world as one of the greatest scientists of his time (not some humorous old man as so many Americans think.)
      Sadly we have so bought into the corporate/capitalist worldview that we treat education at any level in terms of money. This is particularly ironic in an age in which things change so rapidly we have no idea what jobs will be available when kids graduate or in the years beyond that.
      Our public school system was created because we knew that a sine qua non of a healthy democracy is a well-informed citizenry. When was the last time you heard anyone – Democrat or Republican – mention that as a goal?
      Being well prepared for citizenship requires not only literacy and knowledge of history and government but also science and math – especially statistical – literacy. Being able to read about issues without being bamboozled by statistical manipulation, lies about our history, constitution, bogus science, etc. is an absolute necessity for people to be
      informed voters. Being able to speak out and express oneself effectively on issues is an important part effective citizenship. Being able to understand basic science concepts is also a necessity for being a juror, another important duty of citizens. The fact that so many of our citizens are so easily mislead by right wing snake oil or flimflam testimony is proof that we are failing at this important function of education. That a highly educated man like Ben Carson can be so ignorant about basic facts of our constitution should extremely frightening to all of us.

      • Theodora30

        Here is a recent article on this website by Grne Lyons discussing what happens when we fail to teach people basic civics. His focus is on Republican leaders but if average Americans had a clue about how our government was designed to function (balance of power to prevent rule by extremists) Repulbicans would never have been able to peddle their dishonest, dangerous propaganda.