Is College Really Worth It?

November 13, 2013

It seems like everyone is talking about whether or not college is really worth the monetary investment. While the majority of Americans conclude that, yes, ultimately a college degree leads to more prosperous, engaged, and healthy lives, doubts are on the rise.

Overall, 52% of respondents affirmed that a four-year degree is necessary to be successful, down from 61% just a year ago, according to a recent report from the College Board and National Journal. Interestingly, blacks and Hispanics demonstrate more confidence in the value of a college education than other racial groups. Statistics appear to support the positive correlation between a college degree and success. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce, an individual with a four-year degree will earn an average of $1.6 million more than a high school graduate over a lifetime.

Young Invincibles (YI)—the nonprofit interest group for 18- to 34-year olds which advocates for affordable health care, jobs, and education—traveled to Portland, Oregon, and Miami, Florida, last week to host conversations on the value of a college degree at Portland Community College and Miami-Dade Community College, respectively. YI staffers posed the thought-provoking question, “Will college be worth your investment?” Most of the responses amounted to “maybe.”

  • "My degree will be worth it IF I can pay for my basic needs."

  • “My degree will be worth is IF I attain my dream job!"

  • "My degree will be worth it IF I can get a job in my field."

So who’s responsible for ensuring that an investment in college is a worthy one? Students need to select an institution and a program that will strengthen their assets and help them find a job. The business community must make clear the skills required to succeed in the workplace and lend its voice to the curriculum development by partnering with providers. Employers can also be more open and receptive to new players in the game. And, finally, colleges must be attentive and adjust their curriculums and approaches to meet the demands of the job market.

Perhaps the answer to the question of our time is not “Is college worth it?” but rather “How do I make a college investment worth it?”

Jaimie Matthews is manager of policy and programs at the USCCF's Education and Workforce program.