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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

May 28, 2014 at 4:12 PM

Report: Lifetime cost of college degree is negative $500,000

Some reassuring news this week for members of the Class of 2014 who are already worried about paying back student loans or finding steady work: Despite the rising costs of tuition, a new paper from M.I.T. economist David Autor finds earning a college degree is still very much worth the expense.

As The New York Times reported, Autor’s research concludes that the net cost of attending college is now negative half a million dollars  a figure that has roughly doubled over the past 30 years.

Screen shot of a graph from Autor's report

Screen shot of a graph from Autor’s report

Autor calculated his figures by considering the cost of tuition and fees, the lifetime earnings gap between college graduates and high-school graduates, and then adjusting for inflation and the time value of money. As The Times notes, Autor’s conclusion is somewhat imprecise because he does not control for pre-existing factors outside of college, but plenty of other research has backed the notion that a college degree is well worth the investment.

The push to get more students to pursue some form of post-secondary education or technical training after high school has been a common thread in Education Lab’s coverage over the past several weeks. Last month, Claudia Rowe wrote about how various nonprofits are stepping up to help guide more students through the application process and boost Washington’s dismal 46th-place rank in college going rates.

More recently, a story by Katherine Long examined how Walla Walla Community College has succeeded in improving its completion and transfer rates  a vexing problem for many two-year schools in Washington state.

Comments | More in News | Topics: higher ed

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