Is college worth it?

Pew Research is out with a survey today that says the majority of people surveyed do not think college is a good value. For some reason it also surveyed college presidents who said — surprise — it is a good value.

How does anyone know?

Any question framed like that requires the respondent to know what is a good value. When you try to buy a car and the salesman says “I can put you in this little number for only $30,000,” it may be obvious to you that a 1975 Datsun isn’t worth $30,000. When you tell our salesperson that, he’ll say, “what will it take for you to drive home in this car today?”

Now, maybe the answer is a fast-moving flood, or maybe it’s the $5 of bus fare you have in your pocket, but you have some idea what the value of the car is before you decide the asking price isn’t a good value.

One suspects that people who answer Pew’s question don’t have an idea of the value.

2011-higher-ed-01-17.png Seventy-five percent of those who took part in the Pew survey said it’s too expensive. Fifty-seven percent said college isn’t a good value today. That means almost 20 percent of those surveyed think it’s too expensive, but it’s still a good value. How can it be too expensive and still be a good value?

Eight-six percent of college graduates said college is or was a good investment.. But 57 percent said they’d rather work and make money than, presumably, going to college. Is this the same 57 percent who said college isn’t a good value? The survey says the percentage who don’t think it’s a good value is about the same among those who went to college and those who did not.

And yet most college graduates think they’re earning $20,000 more a year thanks to going to college. Most non-attendees think they’re earning $20,000 less. In addition, most graduates say that their college education was very useful in helping them grow intellectually (74%), mature as a person (69%) and prepare for a job or career (55%).

So most college grads think they earn more, more think college is worth it even though it’s expensive, most think it helps them grow intellectually, most think it helps people mature and most think it prepares them for a job or career. And yet, most don’t think it’s a good value.

It’s time for the car salesman approach here to figure out the role of higher education. If you don’t think it’s worth it now, what’s it going to take for you to drive home with this degree today?