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Debating the Value of College

With students wallowing in debt, defaulting on loans, and facing a bleak job market, some are questioning: Is college worth it?

There is an interesting debate going on this past week on the topic—and one that will surely continue for some time. It started with an article Friday in The New York Times that quotes a small but influential group of economists and educators encouraging some students who are not ready or likely to be successful in college to skip it. Instead, they advocate intensive, short-term vocational and career training, through expanded high school programs and corporate apprenticeships. Part of the rationale is that of the 30 jobs projected to grow at the fastest rate over the next decade in the United States, only seven typically require a bachelor's degree.

On Monday, David Leonhardt questioned the "Plan B" argument in The Times. He argued that while many colleges are failing to turn out graduates and students are ending up in deep debt, pursuing a degree is still worth it. Leonhardt points to the pay gap between college graduates and others. Real pay of college graduates has risen over the past 25 years, while real pay of every other group has dropped. Sure, college grads have been hurt by the current recession, but they have fared better than workers with less education. His bottom line: Students benefit from college.

Yesterday, more banter was generated on the topic by Matthew Yglesias' blog for Think Progress of the Center for American Progress. Yglesias writes that there clearly is a large and growing college wage premium and that demand for jobs with college graduate skills is growing faster than the supply.

Watch for more on this hot topic in the coming months. As students struggle to finance college and campuses look for innovative ways to boost graduation rates, the debate about the value of a degree will only intensify.

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