A series of studies show Americans are increasingly "losing faith in the value of college" as some researchers unearth evidence that higher degrees aren’t worth it for most.
"A decade or so ago, Americans were feeling pretty positive about higher education," New York Times Magazine contributing writer Paul Tough wrote. But that changed in just 10 years, with "now almost half of American parents" saying "they’d prefer that their children not enroll in a four-year college," citing a 2021 survey.
Economic researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis established a "wealth premium" to determine the economic benefits of college weighed against debt and total assets. Their results, Tough wrote, were striking.
"Among families whose head is of any race or ethnicity born in the 1980s and holding a postgraduate degree, the wealth premium is... indistinguishable from zero," the economic researchers concluded. "Our results suggest that college and postgraduate education may be failing some recent graduates as a financial investment."
"Black college graduates born after 1980 were experiencing almost no wealth premium at all," he continued, explaining that Latino families gained similarly little actual wealth from a college education. White college graduates from the 1980s "had only a bit more wealth than White high school graduates born in the same decade," according to the report.
These results come, Tough wrote, amid a massive drop in college enrollment across the United States.
"In the fall of 2010, there were more than 18 million undergraduates enrolled in colleges and universities across the United States," he wrote. "That figure has been falling ever since, dipping below 15.5 million undergrads in 2021. As recently as 2016, 70 percent of high school graduates were still going straight to college; now the figure is 62 percent."
Politicized college campuses have also turned off some Republicans to higher education.
"In a 2023 Gallup poll, only 19 percent of Republicans said they had a lot of confidence in higher education, down from 56 percent in 2015," Tough wrote. "In a 2017 Gallup poll, the No. 1 reason Republicans gave for their declining faith in higher ed was that colleges had become ‘too liberal/political.’"
Tough also compared views on college between Republicans and Democrats.
"In an ongoing Pew survey, the portion of Republicans (and those who lean Republican) saying colleges and universities had a negative effect on the country rose to 58 percent from 37 percent in just two years, between 2015 and 2017, while the responses of Democrats (and those who lean Democrat) held steady."
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