Over at Equitable Growth: The Estimable Andrew Kelly writes some words well worth reading:
Andrew Kelly: Let's Clarify The "College Is Worth It" Conversation: "The current debate about higher education has reached an odd status quo....
We’re questioning whether college is “worth it” at the same time that completing some form of postsecondary education is more important to economic success than ever before....
In trying to make sense of the noise.... Going to College ≠ Completing College.... That wage premium shows the value of completing college, not the value of going to college. What if you’re one of the 45 percent of students who don’t finish a degree within six years?... Millennials with some college or an associate’s degree out-earn their high school-educated peers by just $2,000.... Tell a prospective student that yes, completing college is, on average, worth the time and money. But not all postsecondary options are created equal, so choose the one that reflects your talents and abilities and gives you the best chance of success. And if you choose to go, work your tail off to make sure you finish.... READ MOAR
Researchers have tended to compare college graduates with debt to a strange counterfactual: college graduates who don’t have debt.... But this comparison ignores the relevant counterfactual.... How do graduates with debt compare to non-graduates without debt?... [And= you know who does worst of all?... Those who took on student loan debt but failed to graduate. They have accumulated about 14 percent of the wealth that graduates with debt have. This is where the real student debt crisis lies...
From an individual point of view, the questions are:
- Could you finish a two-year program that opens doors in three years or less?
- Could you finish a four-year program in five years or less?
If the answers are "yes", go for it. If the answers are "no", don't. And if you go for it, make sure you do finish: otherwise you will be behind the eight-ball in what looks to be for the foreseeable future a much worse job market, especially for the young, relative to our reasonable expectations than America has ever seen before.
For public policymakers, the questions are more complicated and subtle. There are six groups:
- Those who would finish college whether or not college were made more affordable, who will be windfall gainers from policies to make college more affordable.
- Those who would not attempt college unless college were made more affordable, but who would complete it if it were--these are the people at whom the policy is directed.
- Those who would not attempt college unless college were made more affordable, but who would attempt it if it were but would fail to complete it--these are the losers from the policy.
- Those who would attempt college but not finish it anyway--these are small gainers because more-affordable college reduces their student loan debt.
- The taxpayers who pay for government policies to make college more affordable.
- The academic administrators, faculty, entrepreneurs, and businesses who skim off their share from policies that make college more affordable.
We want policies to make college more affordable that maximize the number of and the value for people in group (2), and we are happy at the reduced debt burden on those in group (4).
We are really unhappy if such policies lead to an increase in the number of those in group (3), and we are also unhappy at the existence of groups (1) and (6), for the redistribution of the money of group (5) to them is a societal bad.
How large are the money flows between these six groups, and how large are groups (2) and (3), and how much extra education do groups (2) and (3) get?
Those are the questions that discussions of education policy should focus on. Yet when I look at the literature, those are not questions the answers to which I find readily.
Maybe I am lazy, or slow, or looking in the wrong places. But, still, it seems obvious to me that demand for these answers is (or should be) large: why does it not call forth the supply?