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Up Front

Helping Young People Make Better Higher Education Choices

Isabel V. Sawhill and Stephanie Owen

Is a college degree worth it? Not for everyone, according to our newly-released Center on Children and Families policy brief. The value of a college degree can vary dramatically, depending on factors such as field of study, type of college, graduation rate and future occupation. Here’s the last in a three-part blog post series, where we take a closer look at findings from the policy brief. (Read the first part and second part here.)

Even though we often talk about college as a monolith, the truth is that not all college degrees are created equal. There is huge variation in the return to a bachelor’s degree, depending on choice of major and occupation; school type and selectivity level; and likelihood of graduating. All of this suggests that it is a mistake to unilaterally tell young Americans that going to college—any college—is the best decision they can make. If they choose wisely and attend a school with high graduation rates, generous financial aid, and high expected earnings, they can greatly improve their lifetime prospects. The information needed to make a wise decision, however, can be difficult to find and hard to interpret.

We lay out a three-pronged approach that would help every young person make a smart investment in their future: better information, performance-based scholarships, and better alternatives to a traditional four-year degree.

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