Is a college degree still worth it?

The freakonomics blog has a discouraging statistic today for college-going students and their parents:

As college students head back to the classroom this semester, a harsh reality confronts them — the rewards for the time, energy, and money that young people put into college are less than they were a decade ago.  Since 2000, America’s young college graduates have seen wages, adjusted for inflation, deteriorate.  This lack of wage growth may be particularly surprising to those used to reading about the vast unfilled need for college graduates, which if true would lead to increases in their earnings.

The rising costs—and reported diminishing returns—of college are forcing families to ask important questions about how much they can afford to pay, whether or not they should take out loans, and what promises their potential colleges are making in return for four years of time and money.  If you’re going to sacrifice to go to college, it’s smart to ask just how much college will actually do for you.

But don’t forget to ask what I think is an even more important question—what are you going to do to make college worth it?

A college degree alone doesn’t prove that you’re any smarter, more qualified, harder-working or in any way more desirable as an employee than any other degree-holding grad.  A degree just means that you completed college.  And that doesn’t mean nearly as much as it did a generation ago.  You could show proof that you successfully completed a two-year gym membership.  But whether or not you're in great shape will depend on what you actually did during that time.

I’ve written a lot about the importance of students cultivating remarkable college careers, and the need to find the right colleges where they can do it.  If you’re new to this blog, or if you want to explore those ideas again, here are a few past posts:

Is it still worth it to go to college?

Going to college isn’t so special anymore

What’s your college plan?

What can you actually do?