Is College Worth the Cost? Less Than Half of Students Think So.
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- Only 47% of current and prospective college students say college is worth the cost.
- Female students were less likely than male students to say college was worth the cost.
- BIPOC students were also less likely than white students to say college was worth the cost.
- Just 4 in 10 Gen Z students said college was worth the cost.
The average cost of college tuition has tripled over the past 50 years, growing 20% in the past decade alone. Today's college students are questioning if the benefits of going to college are worth the price tag.
We surveyed 1,000 current and prospective undergraduate and graduate students. Less than half said college is worth the overall cost. The majority (56%) of students said college is a financial burden for them or their families.
Most students agree that college comes with benefits. Sixty-eight percent think college leads to economic and career opportunities.
But, certain groups valued the benefits of college differently. Female students, BIPOC students, and Gen Z students were less likely than male students, white students, and millennials to believe in college's potential to boost their income or career.
The comparisons highlight a higher education system that's not only unaffordable but also unequal in whom it rewards.
Who Sees the Most Return on Investment in College?
More education correlates with higher earnings. However, median incomes vary based on race, ethnicity, and gender — regardless of educational attainment. And pay gaps don't shrink with more education.
Female students surveyed were less likely than male students to say college is worth the overall cost (43% vs. 53%).
According to the Department of Labor, female bachelor's degree-holders make 77 cents for every dollar that male bachelor's degree-holders make. That's the same earnings ratio between female and male high school graduates.
In the BestColleges survey, BIPOC students were less likely than white students to say college is worth the cost (43% vs. 50%). They were also less likely than white students to say college provides economic and career opportunities (64% vs. 71%).
Wage gaps for Black and Latino/a workers increase with higher educational attainment, according to the Department of Education. Median annual earnings for Black and Latino/a bachelor's degree-holders are roughly $10,000 less than for white bachelor's degree-holders.
College Must Keep Up With the Modern Job Market
Gen Z students are far less likely than millennial students to say college is worth the overall cost (41% vs. 58%). They're also less likely to believe that college provides monetary or career benefits (64% vs. 73% of millennials).
A Pew Research report suggests that during the Great Recession millennials connected college degrees to getting ahead. This belief in higher education could still shape millennials' perspectives on college over a decade later. But during the pandemic-related economic downturn, Gen Z may be finding alternative learning paths to improve their job prospects.
After unemployment spiked in spring 2020, jobs recovered in sectors where not all jobs require a college degree, such as healthcare, construction, and information technology.
Shorter, more affordable alternatives to college may be more attractive to Gen Z in today's uncertain economic climate.
Is College Worth the Cost?
In general, investing in college can help students qualify for higher-paying jobs. However, students need to weigh their costs — and any debt they incur — with what they expect to gain.
But with today's high cost of college, many students simply aren't feeling the benefit.
The survey was conducted from July 7-13, 2022. Student respondents were fielded by Lucid LLC. Survey participants included 1,000 respondents nationwide who were currently enrolled in or planning to enroll in an undergraduate or graduate degree program at a college or university in the next 12 months. Respondents were 16-65 years of age and currently pursuing or planning to pursue an associate, bachelor's, master's, doctoral, or professional degree. The respondents for the survey were screened by various quality checks, including systems like Relevant ID, and responses were manually reviewed to ensure consistency and accuracy.