A study published last week by Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist David Autor found that even as high school graduates saw their inflation-adjusted income drop a cumulative 11 percent from 1980 to 2012, college graduates experienced a jump of 20 percent to 56 percent, depending on whether they went on to graduate school. That amounts to more than $500,000 in additional income over a college graduate’s lifetime.
These findings have revived the debate over the cost and benefits of college. Entrepreneurs such as Peter Thiel have argued that college is a waste of time and money, saddling young people with enormous debt and giving them limited practical skills. Many of the world’s wealthiest people never went to college, he claims (never mind that Thiel himself attended Stanford University and Stanford Law School).
But overlooked in all the claims and counterclaims is an obvious question: Why are Americans so obsessed with putting a price tag on the value of a college education?