A college degree and graduation cap in the trash as some wonder, "is going to college worth it?"

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Is going to college still worth it? How has public confidence in the value of a college degree changed in recent years? What can be done to reduce the financial risk for students?

A recent study shows most colleges significantly increase their graduates’ earnings, even as public confidence in the value of higher education is declining. The 2008 financial crisis, the pandemic, and swelling tuition and student loan debts are fueling Americans’ skepticism about the value of a college degree.

Let’s take a look at the current value of a college degree.

The Value of a College Degree

New research puts a fresh spin on the longstanding debate about the value of a college education, revealing that most colleges substantially increase graduates’ earnings. But the findings come as a growing number of Americans express skepticism and wonder “Is going to college worth it?”


A February study by the HEA Group comparing median earnings of college graduates 10 years after enrollment finds that most colleges boost their graduates’ earning potential.

This increase in earnings is just one facet of the advantages college degree holders can experience. Data from a 2023 study show that securing a college degree pays dividends in lifetime earnings and additional benefits:

  • Professionals with a four-year degree in fields like HR or marketing can see their salaries more than double over their careers. Conversely, wages for jobs typically held by high school graduates, such as truck driving, don’t experience this same growth over time.
  • College degree holders are more likely to enjoy benefits that often aren’t accessible to those without a degree, such as remote work opportunities, paid sick and family leave, and health insurance coverage.

Americans’ Confidence in Colleges Wanes

Despite data showing that a college degree provides lifelong economic benefits, public confidence in the value of college is flagging: 56% percent of Americans in a 2023 Wall Street Journal-NORC poll said they believed a college degree isn’t worth the cost.

While the number of undergraduate students increased by 1.2% last fall, adding roughly 176,000 students compared to 2022, American college campuses saw a million fewer students compared to five years ago. 

Doubts Over Value and Success Rates

Experts say that Americans’ confidence in higher education value has waned amid financial crises, health emergencies, and soaring tuition and student debt.

Looking Ahead

Experts say the value of attending college significantly depends on the nature of the institution and the credential students pursue.

As a result, some recommend that students pursue high-paying majors. One economist argues that while college makes sense for “A” students, “B” students should only attend if they’re prepared to study in high return-on-investment fields like economics or engineering.

Further, students seeking work in less lucrative careers like teaching might benefit from choosing colleges that are less expensive or offer financial aid and scholarships to lessen the burden of student loans.

Is Going to College Worth It, Amidst Rising Costs?

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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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