The investment in even a partial college education is still worth it, amounting to average earnings of $100,000 more over a lifetime than for those who merely finish high school. That’s a better investment return on average than stocks and bonds — though of course much lower than the return on college for those who finish. […]But the new report notes those with some college still earn $8,000 more per year than those with only a high school diploma. The report also notes that the national unemployment rate reported last week in the combined category that includes those with some college or an associate’s degree was 6.5 percent—below the national average of 7.6 percent for people 25 and over..
One of the arguments against mass college enrollment is that marginal students are more likely to flunk out, leaving them worse off than they were before: with a huge debt burden and no degree to show for it. This report suggests that even those who drop out receive some benefits in the form of higher earning power than those who never enroll in college.Perhaps, but the real question is whether these marginal benefits are worth the massive price tag. Times are tough even for those who graduate on schedule; they’re even worse for the nearly 50 percent of students who don’t earn a degree in six years. There are 34 million Americans over 25 who have some college credits but no diploma, and they are four times as likely to default on their loans as their degreed peers.Rather than funneling marginal students into conventional degree programs, why not encourage cheaper alternatives like vocational schools, online coursework, or certificate programs? If the goal is to give people a credential that signals certain competencies to employers, then for many students there are plenty of cheaper and better options than a four-year degree.[Ball and chain image courtesy of Shutterstock]