Is College Worth Your Time and Money?

Books and Graduation Cap

A few years ago, Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel launched the Thiel Fellowship, which offers ambitious young people $100,000 (no strings attached) to focus on self-education and entrepreneurship in lieu of college.

With that fellowship, Thiel contributed his own fuel to a long-simmering debate: Is college worth the time and expense? While dropping out of college worked out for a handful of tech entrepreneurs—Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs never obtained degrees—a new report from The New York Times suggests that, yes, college is worth it.

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That report, based on an analysis of Labor Department statistics by the Economic Policy Institute, posits that Americans who graduated with a four-year college degree “made 98 percent more an hour on average in 2014 than people without a degree.” Moreover, that number represents a significant increase from the early 1980s, when four-year graduates made an average of 64 percent more.

“There is nothing inevitable about this trend,” the report continues. “If there were more college graduates than the economy needed, the pay gap would shrink. The gap’s recent growth is especially notable because it has come after a rise in the number of college graduates, partly because many people went back to school during the Great Recession.”

But as FiveThirtyEight points out, a distinction needs to be made between graduating from college and merely attending it. “Most of the benefits of college come from graduating, not enrolling,” that publication noted. “The wage premium for people with some college but no degree has been stagnant, even as debt levels have been rising. That means that people who start college but drop out may be worse off than people who never enrolled in the first place.”

And the dropout rates aren’t great, with FiveThirtyEight suggesting “less than 60 percent of full-time students” graduate within six years; the numbers are worse for part-time students. “The college decision may be ‘a no-brainer’ … but only for those reasonably confident they can finish with a degree.” (Vox disagrees with the Times article even more strenuously, arguing that more data is needed to make such sweeping conclusions.)

For many, then, college could prove a profitable choice—provided one actually graduates.

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7 Responses to “Is College Worth Your Time and Money?”

  1. Benjamin Thomas

    You should stop writing articles like this with sensational titles. The content was contradictory to the title. It could mislead youngsters and make them feel that they have wasted money and time-because not many would bother to read the article.

    The correct title should have been “College Degree is worth the money” because that is what the article says.

  2. I often ask myself if it was worth it.. I have BSIT cnc in Computer Networking. Could not find a good paying job in networking now work for a large Company that does not value their IT staff. I have been with this company for 6 years and it has made me question being in the IT field along with the temp agencies that are ruining the IT field by driving down wages. Temp agencies have made it very hard to get decent paying jobs because they low ball you coming in the door and then take a percentage of your pay and also tell your low pay to the possible hiring company screwing you for trying to negotiate a fair wage. I currently work on our company’s WINDOWS Applications team. Dealing with all application issues and Windows Application Servers, but I have yet to make the Salary I was told in College and actually about 20,000 a year from it. I am still in debt with student loans. School costs are not worth it if it takes half your life to get out debt from them. You would be better off getting into a specialized job field that is in high demand and not listen to the schools. Nurses and IT the market will soon be flooded driving the your wages down even more..

    • legendary63

      Get some high-level certs like CCNA, CCNP, MCITP, or MCSE. In the IT world, it’s not what you “know” but what you can PROVE. In IT, a degree is good only if you plan on being a manager…but still get those certifications.

  3. Sorry for the broken English in part of the last post. On lunch break and was in a hurry.
    I am a Army Veteran also. I don’t recommend going in as an enlisted. Don’t listen to the recruiters. If your going in go ROTC and Be an Officer. You’ll get paid and it’s a complete different and better Army. Plus side as an Officer all your job experience can be used towards management positions which are better paid. That is not the case for Enlisted.

    Recruiters that say you can go to school while your in are telling you half truths. It’s under Company Commanders Discretion and they will deny you for night classes. They denied me after I did everything they asked. “Army of One” <– It's correct all you can count on is yourself.

  4. bubba

    Yes, college is worth it. The unemployment rate is lower for college graduates and it takes less time on average to find a job. However, if I had to do it again, I would not have pursued higher education further after getting my Bachelor’s degree. Unless you can get someone to pay for it, the crushing debt is tough. Get one degree at a cheap college, then get out.

  5. James Brooks

    Correlation does not imply causation.

    I would assume that there are large differences in the population that attends college and the population that doesn’t attend in terms of ambition, financial resources, intelligence, etc. So the income differential between the groups cannot be attributed simply to the decision of whether or not to attend college.

    The real question is how much difference the college decision will make to a PARTICULAR young person with an ambition level of x, family financial resources of y, intelligence level of z, charisma level of zz, etc. Until I see a study that corrects for these other major variables, I’m going to ignore the simple statistic that this group on average makes x% more than this other group. There’s no reason to believe that the average member of one group would find themselves in the average position of the other group if he made the decision to join the other group.

  6. I served seven years in the Navy and while a good amount of the technical training was good, nothing in the Navy prepared me for the business world. Once I secured employment, I pursued an AAS in hopes of strengthening my skills set for future employment. As is customary in I/T, I hopped a few jobs and then settled into a position as a Federal Contractor. The lax schedule has allowed me to build on the AAS toward a BA. All of the classes in my degree plan have been very helpful toward explaining the “How” and “Why” certain business functions take place. I only wish someone would have explained to me after I left the service that pursuit of the four year degree straight away would have been the better option.