Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

The Wage Premium


Robert and George rightly challenge Marcus Winters’s argument that more students should be going to college (the popular view, it appears). One point that Winters raises is the “wage premium” — the difference between the lifetime earnings for high-school graduates and college graduates.

Many questions swirl around this premium. How much of it is due to the role of the college degree as a screening device rather than to actual education? How much is due to the natural abilities of the college-bound population, who would earn more money even without college? What will be the wage premium for the more marginal students now drawn in by the push to go to college? And how much of the premium reflects the decline in the value of the high-school degree, rather than the benefits of a college degree?

And then there is the amount of the premium itself. The “million dollars over a lifetime” figure has been discredited. The National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges came up with an estimate of $121,539. Mark Schneider parses the figures in a recent AEI Outlook paper.


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