College cost: Loans detract from the value of degrees, poll finds

Wages for non-degree-holders have increased over the last 10 years. Here's how that is changing adults' views on the price of higher ed.

The value of a college degree is nothing like it was before the pandemic, and rising tuition costs aren’t doing colleges any favors as they continue grappling with enrollment declines, a new poll indicates.

Only 22% of adults believe a four-year degree is worth it even if it incurs debt, a new Pew Research survey suggests. Another 47% say the cost is only worth it if they don’t need to take out a loan, while 29% say the cost isn’t worth it at all.

One factor to consider is the wage improvements for workers without a bachelor’s degree. Over the past 10 years, we’ve witnessed earnings increases for workers ages 25-34 with no college background, and their overall wealth has gone up too, the survey suggests.

However, the same can be said for college graduates, meaning the earnings gap between the two groups hasn’t narrowed.

In today’s economy, only 25% of survey takers believe it’s “extremely” or “very important” to have a four-year degree in order to obtain a well-paying job. Forty percent say the opposite.

“Views on the value of college differ by partisanship, education and age,” the survey reads. “But notably, in all groups except for Republicans, pluralities say the cost of college is only worth it if someone doesn’t have to take out a loan.”

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College degree details

Gender-related trends

Median annual earnings of men with/without a college degree (2022 figures):

  • With a four-year degree: $77,000
  • Without a four-year degree: $45,000
  • “Some college”: $50,000

Median annual earnings of women with/without a college degree (2022 figures):

  • With a four-year degree: $65,000
  • Without a four-year degree: $36,000
  • “Some college”: $40,000

For more insight, you can view the survey’s complete findings here.

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a University Business staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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