Most Americans – 57 percent – say the U.S. higher education system fails to provide good value for tuition dollars, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.
The cost of a college education at both public and private schools has roughly tripled (in inflation-adjusted dollars) since 1980, Pew said, forcing more students than ever to borrow money to finance their education. The typical student now graduates from a four-year college with a record $23,000 in loans.
As rising tuition costs place an increasing burden on American families, only half of recent college grads are working full time. Of these, half are working in jobs that don’t require a college degree, according to a new study by the Rutgers Heldrich Center of Workforce Development.
Tuition costs strain families, but U.S. Census data shows that college graduates made on average nearly $20,000 more than high school graduates in 2009. The median salary for college graduates was $46,931 in 2009, compared to $27,381 for high school graduates. College graduates are also more likely to be employed.
“Over the course of a 40-year working life, the typical college graduate earns an estimated $550,000 more than the typical high school graduate, even after factoring the costs and foregone earnings associated with going to college,” said Pew.
A high correlation exists between education and financial success, according to Spectrem Group research on affluent investors. (Spectrem defines wealth in terms of net worth not including primary residence.) More than 90 percent of investors with $25 million or more have college degrees and 65 percent have graduates degrees. In contrast, 66 percent of investors with $100,000 to $1 million have college degrees and 21 percent have an advanced degree.
The benefits of a college education extend beyond financial success. The Pew study found that, “college graduates, on average, are happier and more satisfied with their jobs, their financial situation and their education than are those who did not attend college.”
College graduates surveyed by Pew credit their education with helping them grow intellectually - 74 percent - and mature as a person - 69 percent. At the same time, nearly half say paying back college loans has make it harder to make ends meet, and one-fourth say it has made it more difficult to buy a home.