Half Of Americans Say College Was ‘Worth It’

Student Loan

Is college worth it?

It’s a worthy, albeit, loaded question. These days, it’s certainly a pertinent one. In August, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that current borrowers (including current students and graduates) owe an estimated $1.3 trillion in education loans—a number expected to double by 2025. In one generation, the number of Americans with a college degree jumped from 25% to 40%. But while the baby boomers graduated with minimal to no debt, millennials are taking on massive amounts.

The second edition of the Gallup-Purdue Index—a two-year study of more than 60,000 college graduates released today (Sept. 29)—set out to examine how college graduates feel about the value of a college education. In short, if the degree was worth it. First, the results revealed out of those graduating between 2006 and 2015, 63% said they used student loans to finance their degrees. The median loan amount for that group was $30,000.


Specifically, the survey asked college graduates to rate how strongly they felt whether their “university education” was worth the cost on a one to five scale (one meant “strongly disagree” and five meant “strongly agree”). Half (50%) of all the respondents “strongly agreed” that their education was worth it. Another 27% rated their agreement at four and the rest (23%) chose three or less. However, when separating those graduating between 2006 and 2015, the “strongly agreed” number drops to 38%.

Gallup Executive Director for Education and Workforce Development Brandon Busteed viewed this in a “glass have empty” way. “Given that higher education has become one of the largest financial investments a person will make over their lifetime, it’s a bit alarming that only half of all graduates strongly agree their education was worth the cost,” he said in a prepared release. “Clearly, we all need to work harder on improving quality and reducing cost as much as possible.”

The authors of the report share similar sentiments. “Given that many families invest heavily in higher education for their children, there should be little doubt about its (a college degree) value,” the report says.


The study also examined the differences in alumni from public, private nonprofit, and private for-profit universities. While graduates from public universities (52%) and private nonprofit universities (47%) had similar feelings if their degrees were worth it, only 26% of graduates from for-profit universities thought their degrees were worth it. Graduates from for-profit universities are largely first generation college students and traditionally take on the highest debt load.

The delay of big life purchases and decisions correlates to larger and unprecedented amounts of student debt. “We find that student loans deter independence,” concluded a June Federal Reserve Bank of New York report. “All else equal, state-cohort groups who were more heavily reliant on student debt while in school are significantly and substantially more likely to move home to parents when living independently, and are significantly and substantially less likely to move away from parents when living at home,” the report continued.

The Gallup survey found 48% of graduates with student loans say they have delayed post-graduate education. Supporting the earlier Federal Reserve Bank Report, the Gallup study found 36% with student loans have delayed purchasing a home and 33% say they’ve delayed purchasing a car.


Interestingly, when college graduates felt supported by their professors and developed relationships and mentorships with faculty members, they were more likely to feel like college was worth it. In fact, a meaningful relationship was much more important to the value of college than a paying job. The study found that college graduates were 1.9 times more likely to “strongly agree” that college was worth it if their “professors cared about them as a person.” Meanwhile, they were only 1.2 times more likely to “strongly agree” college was worth it if they “had a paid job or internship.”

They were also 1.9 times more likely to “strongly agree” college was worth it if they had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams. “Many universities invest in state-of-the-art fitness facilities, dining halls and posh dormitories to provide a more attractive environment for undergraduates,” the report reads. “While graduates might have appreciated those amenities at the time, in the long run, they may have been better off paying less money for college but having better relationships with those who could help them carve out a vision for their future and map a course for long-term success.”


The report suggests fostering quality interactions between students and faculty members could be a key in how college students perform on the job and look back at their experience.

“In many cases, quality interactions mean finding innovative ways to make professors more accessible and students’ interactions with them more meaningful,” the report states. “In the longer run, it may mean shifting the institution’s culture to give faculty members more incentive to hone their teaching practices or to make a talent for engaging students and supporting learning outcomes a more important part of hiring criteria for educators.”

Of course, this falls on the students as well. After all, a meaningful relationship is a two-way street. “We’ve said before that it’s not where you go to college but how you go to college that matters,” Purdue University Presdient, Mitch Daniels added in a prepared release. “Students get out what they put in, and they can get an excellent education at a wide variety of institutions across the country. As the study shows, their experience is determined much more by the relationships they build with mentors and the success they are able to achieve via their work on campus or abroad.”

The Lumina Foundation, a private foundation aiming to “increase the proportion of Americans with postsecondary education potential” also contributed to the study.


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