New Research: Is College Worth It?

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Apprentices learn how to plaster at a trade school in Auburndale, Massachusetts.

A recent Pew Research Center report reveals that economic outcomes for young adults without a four-year college degree have been improving over the past decade, with increased earnings and reduced poverty rates. Despite these gains, the income gap between those with and without a college degree remains unchanged as young college graduates have also seen improvements in their economic situations. Public opinion on the value of a college degree is mixed, with only 22% of U.S. adults believing that the cost of college is worth it if loans are necessary. Many Americans question the necessity of a college degree for securing a well-paying job, with 40% asserting that it is not very important.

The report highlights that the labor force participation and full-time employment rates for young men and women without a college degree have stabilized or increased after decades of decline. For young men, earnings have risen since 2014, though they remain below early 1970s levels, and poverty rates have significantly decreased. Similarly, young women without a degree have seen their earnings increase and poverty rates fall over the past decade. However, four-year college graduates continue to report higher earnings and lower poverty rates, and they perceive their education as more beneficial for obtaining well-paying jobs compared to those without a degree. This disparity underscores ongoing debates about the value and cost of higher education in the U.S.

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