The Agenda

Peak College

Richard Vedder and Christopher Denhart argue that the recent dip in college enrollment — which is down 1.5 percent since 2012 — reflects the rising cost of higher education couple with its declining value:

A key measure of the benefits of a degree is the college graduate’s earning potential—and on this score, their advantage over high-school graduates is deteriorating. Since 2006, the gap between what the median college graduate earned compared with the median high-school graduate has narrowed by $1,387 for men over 25 working full time, a 5% fall. Women in the same category have fared worse, losing 7% of their income advantage ($1,496).

A college degree’s declining value is even more pronounced for younger Americans. According to data collected by the College Board, for those in the 25-34 age range the differential between college graduate and high school graduate earnings fell 11% for men, to $18,303 from $20,623. The decline for women was an extraordinary 19.7%, to $14,868 from $18,525.

Vedder and Denhart point to the rising number of college graduates working in occupations that don’t require a college degree as an indication that enrollment growth has been excessive, and they call on higher education institutions to (a) embrace cost-saving innovation and (b) accept the use of new benchmarks to assess the value of the education they offer. The perfect complement to Vedder and Denhart’s argument is Anya Kamenetz’s roadmap for reforming public higher education, “$1 Trillion and Rising.”