As graduation season winds down, questions surrounding whether a college degree is worth the cost heat up. The U.S. Labor Department suggests that a degree does pay off, finding that Americans with a four-year college degree earned an average of 98% more per hour in 2013 than people without a degree, according to a report in The New York Times.
To play devil’s advocate, National PublicRadio came up with three instances when college may not be worth it.
For starters, statistics show that 59% of students actually complete a degree. The rest, about 34 million Americans, are in the workforce with some college but no degree. According to Bureau of Labor statistics, those workers have less earning power and are more likely to be unemployed.
Then there’s the study from the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment which found that students attending for-profit colleges are less likely to find a job and more likely to have lower earning potential after enrolling when compared to students going to traditional colleges and universities. It also noted that students at for-profit institutions generally carry heavier debt and are more likely to default on student loans.
Picking the wrong degree can also be a problem. A Chronicle of Higher Education report in 2011 showed an earning gap that ranged from $120,000 for petroleum engineers to $29,000 for psychology counselor. With the average student debt burden at $29,400, an argument can be made that some degrees simply are not cost effective.
“Now, we’re not arguing that a college degree is a bad idea. It’s not,” wrote NPR reporter Anya Kamenetz. “Our point is, when it comes to bold, blanket statements about the value of a college degree and whether it will pay off … words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ aren’t helpful. Or true.”