Freakonomics Goes to College

The Freakonomics site has a new podcast (audio and transcript available here) that looks at the costs and benefits of going to college. The podcast touches on issues that I’ve been thinking about a fair amount lately.

One quote particularly caught my eye. Berkeley economist David Card makes two points that Heather Boushey and I emphasize in a recent paper (pdf):

If you’re thinking about [going to college] as an investor, you know, you’ve got a kid and you’re thinking of sending them to college or not, you have to pay a lot of money upfront and then reap those returns later on. And several features of that are difficult. One is the cost that you have to pay upfront has gone up quite a bit, and the second is the uncertainty involved in whether the kid will actually successfully complete the degree. It’s a pretty risky investment.

The cost of college has gone up enormously since the end of the 1970s and a high share of people who start college –upwards of 40 percent– don’t finish.

When economists and politicians lament the inadequate supply of college graduates, we need to ask: What are you proposing that we do to make college more affordable? And, what are you proposing that we do to increase college completion rates?

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