For a nation that needs more college graduates, we seem oddly hellbent on discouraging as many people as possible from getting degrees.
The latest headlines, prompted by a multiyear survey on attitudes toward college conducted by pollster Gallup and Purdue University, blared that “less than half of recent grads think college was worth the cost.”
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 indeed 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.
The grads in the national online survey were asked to rate on a 1-to-5 scale whether their educations were worth the cost. Nationally, 77 percent agreed, answering with a "4" (27 percent) or a "5" (50 percent).
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. Incomes and economic opportunities for high-school-only graduates have collapsed.
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.