NY Times editor David Leonhardt recently wrote a column with the provocative title: Is College Worth It? The question has been raised by articles which note that college graduates are still struggling to find meaningful work and often end up accepting jobs for which they feel overqualified. Then we have the student debt crisis. The average student debt for college graduates is over $25,000, and the aggregate debt for student loans now exceeds $1 trillion.
“The decision not to attend college for fear that it’s a bad deal is among the most economically irrational decisions anybody could make in 2014,” is Leonhardt’s succinct answer to his question. He cites a recent article by MIT economist David Autor which points out that a college-educated worker can expect an additional lifetime earning of over $500,000 compared to one whose highest degree is a high school diploma.
“Over the long run, college is cheaper than free,” remarks Leonhardt. “Not going to college will cost you about half a million dollars.” Experts and journalists questioning the value of a college education are most likely obsessing to get their toddlers into an elite nursery school, so they are on-track for the right schools over the ensuing 20 years.
Professor Autor’s article, Skills, education, and the rise of earnings inequality among the “other 99 percent”, was published in the May issue of Science. “The singular focus of public debate on the top 1 percent of households overlooks the component of earnings inequality that is arguably most consequential for the other 99 percent of citizens: the dramatic growth in the wage premium associated with higher education and cognitive ability,” he writes in the abstract.