College

How we view college: Overpriced, unaffordable but worth it

May 16, 2011 at 10:22 AM ET

The cost of a higher education has skyrocketed in recent years, and a new poll shows that many Americans are unhappy about that.

More than half of Americans think the nation’s college system is not good value for money, according to a poll released Sunday by the Pew Research Center.

Even so, most college graduates say it was worth it to them. The Pew survey found that 86 percent of college graduates thought their education had been a good investment.

Still, the financial burden of going to college is weighing heavily on Americans’ minds.

Only 22 percent said that college is affordable to most people today. Just 25 years ago, 39 percent of Americans thought college was affordable to most people.

But if they could afford it, many saw a financial reward. Adults with a college degree estimate that they make an average of $20,000 more a year because they have a college degree. By contrast, those with only a high school degree believe that they make $20,000 less a year because they don’t have a college degree.

That’s almost exactly what the U.S. Census Bureau says is the median annual difference between earnings of high school and college graduates. The unemployment rate for those with a college degree is also substantially lower than for those without.

In addition, most parents still hope their kids will go on to pursue a degree. More than 90 percent of parents with a child under 17 said they expect their kids to attend college, according to the Pew data.

Chances are most of those parents are wondering exactly how that education will be paid for. As college costs – and student loan debt – has increased in recent years, some analysts have questioned whether it is worth it to go to college. Others say we need to think much harder about how to make college cost-effective.

The Pew research was based on a telephone survey of about 2,100 adults, conducted in March.

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