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Beyond Enrollment, Students Need Help Choosing a College and Finishing

Students get the message that college is a valuable investment. While about half of all high school graduates went to college 30 years ago, today, nearly 70 percent enroll in some form of postsecondary education.

What students need now is help selecting the right institution, taking on a manageable debt burden, and finishing their degree, suggest authors of a new paper, Smart Shoppers: The end of the "College for All" Debate.

Writing for the nonprofits College Summit and Bellweather Education Partners, J.B. Schramm, Chad Aldeman, Andrew Rotherham, and Rachael Brown analyzed recent trends in higher education and argue there is not a glut of over-educated workers.

Indeed, employers are seeking highly-educated workers more than ever. Demand for workers with college degrees began increasing starting in the early 1980s. The college-wage premium rose from 40 percent in the 1970s to 70 percent by the mid-1990s, and reached more than 80 percent in 2012, the researchers note.

To meet the growing need for skilled workers, the authors say schools need to do a better job identifying those students who are not realizing their promise, many of whom are low-income. Since college costs and options vary widely, the report recommends providing information and support so students to become discerning shoppers of higher education.

"Once we embrace the notion that ever-more U.S. high school graduates are going and will continue to go into higher education, we need to think differently about the way our schools and policies support individuals in making smart decisions," the report says.

While there are rewards, there are also risks associated with going to college. For the students who fail to complete a degree, who take on too much or the wrong kind of debt, or who make poor decisions in selecting a school, major, or degree, college may not pay off as expected, the authors write. Still the risks of not going to college are even larger, including a greater likelihood of being unemployed, lower earning potential, and less job security.

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