Why Don’t More Young People Go to College?

Heather Boushey and I have a piece in the new issue of Challenge that asks why more young people don’t follow the advice of economists and go to college. We think two factors are particularly important.

First of all, while it is certainly the case that the average college graduate earns a lot more than the average high school graduate, a small, but important share of workers with college degrees actually earn less than the average high school graduate in the same age range –even before factoring in the cost of college. We argue that many young people on the fence about attending college or not might be taking their cues from those who are on the low end, not the middle or high end, of the college-graduate earnings pool.

Second, while the payoff to college definitely grew a lot between 1980 and 2000 (though not really since then), it is also the case that the cost of college has increased even more. Financial aid has offset only a part of this increase in tuition and fees. The shift in financial aid from grants to loans has exacerbated concerns about cost, since many young people and their families worry about being saddled with large, long-term debt, especially when more than 40 percent of those who start college don’t complete their degree within six years.

You can read the whole piece (behind a paywall) here.

One Comment

  1. Jack Funchion says:

    I have some scattered thoughts, as you might imagine:
    1. The returns to “college” would be declining anyway as more people attend. The possession of a BA is more widely distributed, thus less valuable.
    2. “College” educational value has declined as issuance of degrees in the sillier fields has increased. No data here, purely anecdotal (as always with me).
    3. If 1 and 2 were not a factor, that is, the absolute return remained the same, the relative return has declined because the expense has so greatly increased. Most of the expense above inflation seems to me to be the result of a government inflated bubble, the proceeds of which the universities have spent on non-instructional staff and edifice construction.

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