Half of Americans believe college degree less important now than 20 years ago

Recent surveys have shown a concerning trend in Americans' attitudes towards the value of a college degree. Ten years ago, the majority of people viewed higher education positively, with 86% of college graduates considering their degree a good investment in 2011. However, in 2024, only 29% of Americans believe that college is worth the cost, and nearly half think that a four-year degree is less important for securing a high-paying job compared to two decades ago.

The rising cost of tuition and growing student debt are major factors driving this shift in opinion. College tuition has far outpaced inflation over the past 20 years, with private college costs increasing by 144% and public in-state tuition rising by 171-211%. The total outstanding education debt in the U.S. now stands at $1.6 trillion, surpassing credit card and auto debt burdens.

Despite the historical college wage premium, recent data from the San Francisco Federal Reserve shows a decline in the earnings gap between college and high school graduates. The wage growth for high school graduates outpaced that of college graduates between 2020 and 2024, leading to a narrowing of the wage disparity.

Interestingly, more companies are moving away from requiring a college degree for salaried positions, opting instead for a skills-based hiring approach. This shift opens up higher-paying job opportunities for noncollege graduates, particularly in industries like tech, consulting, and finance.

While workers without degrees have made significant progress in closing the earnings gap, the potential impact of a recession on their job prospects remains a concern. In times of economic downturn, less educated workers tend to face higher job losses and earnings declines compared to college graduates.

Overall, the changing landscape of the job market and the evolving views on the value of a college degree reflect a complex and multifaceted issue that will continue to shape the future of higher education and workforce dynamics in the United States.


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