College Guide


July 5, 2012 11:00 AM

Polling on the Value of College

by Daniel Luzer

About 60 percent of adults surveyed by Widmeyer Communications in a recent study indicated that they believed college was a good investment. Only 12 percent said it wasn’t. According to the poll, however, Americans don’t necessarily believe college is as valuable as it used to be:

Americans are closely divided on the value of a college degree: 46 percent say it carries as much value as it did 20 years ago while 41 percent say it does not. Fourteen percent say they don’t know.

Americans might be on to something. While it’s certainly not a financially responsible decision to skip college altogether (the average American with a bachelor’s degree earns 75 percent more than someone with a mere high school diploma), college actually is less valuable than it used to be, from a pure dollar perspective.

The median annual earnings of someone with a bachelor’s degree between 25 and 34 was $49,300 (in 2009 dollars) almost 20 years ago. In 2009 it was $40,100.

Meanwhile, the cost of that bachelor’s degree is much higher. Adjusted for inflation, total tuition, fees, room, and board was an average $12,303 in 1990. Twenty years later, in 2010 (the most recent year with information available) it was $21,657 a year.

No matter how necessary something is, if you pay more for it, and you get less out of it, it’s just not worth as much.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


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  • Katarina Muller on Tue 10 Jul 2012 03:41 PM

    You completely misstated the data on the median annual incomes for bachelor's degrees!

    You said, "The median annual earnings of someone with a bachelorís degree between 25 and 34 was $49,300 (in 2009 dollars) almost 20 years ago. In 2009 it was $40,100." The data (that you have thankfully linked us to) shows that you took the 1995 number for males and then compared that to the 2009 number for females. INCORRECT sir, that is NOT good journalism. While males certainly experienced a bigger growth in their income between 1995-2009, both sexes experienced positive growth. Not a declining income as you have stated.

    Last time I ever trust anything from this website.

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