Phi Beta Cons

How Much Is a College Degree Worth?

Charles Miller, chairman of the Spellings Commission on Higher Education, has committed a horrible gaffe. A gaffe is when someone in Washington inadvertently blurts out the truth. What Miller has done is to question the widely reported statistic that having a college degree is worth a million dollars over your lifetime. Inside Higher Ed has the whole story — with many attacks and counterattacks — here.

Miller contends that the higher-ed establishment uses unrealistic figures on the benefit of having a college degree in order to squeeze more and more money out of students and the public. Bravo!
Tossing around large dollar amounts for the average earnings gain for college graduates is very misleading. High-aptitude, energetic young people who go to college and then into lucrative professions pull the average up, but their experience is quite irrelevant to the marginal student who isn’t especially interested in or good at academic work. Luring that kind of student into college with the idea that having a degree will make his life much better is reprehensible.
Lots of young people these days get their college degrees, only to find out that the degree plus two dollars will get them a cup of coffee. For someone who struggles to earn a one of those mass-produced degrees and then winds up competing in the job market with high-school grads, the value of the degree is negative.
Fortunately, there are quite a few people who aren’t taken in by the Siren Song that having a college degree necessarily means lots of money — including college athletes who don’t bother getting enough additional credits to graduate after they’re finished playing, as I noted here.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.


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