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1 Thing Even More Expensive Than Going to College

It has been widely documented the cost of college is rising all too quickly and student loans are becoming more of a burden than ever for Americans, but it turns out one thing is becoming more costly than going to college.

Rising costs
There is no denying the cost of college has been on an unprecedented run over the last 40 years, with the average cost of college in constant dollars -- meaning inflation is factored in -- three times higher in 2013 than it was in 1973:

Source: College Board. 

When you consider that the price of college has more than tripled over the last 40 years while the income of Americans has only doubled, put simply, college is becoming less and less affordable. Understandably, this has led many to speculate if going to college is even worth the cost, and with student debt levels rising to more than $1 trillion, that seems like a justified question.

Yet the latest report from the Pew Research Center reveals not going to college is even more costly.

The widening gap
In a recent report entitled The Rising Cost of Not Going to College, the Pew Center found that the median salary for those age 25 to 32, deemed Millennials, with a bachelor's degree or more stood at $45,500, which was more than 50% higher than those with a two-year degree, some college, or a high school diploma. The disparities between the unemployment rate and the percent of those deemed as living in poverty was even more startling:

Source: Pew Research Center.

Put differently, a four-year college degree cuts the chance of someone being unemployed in half.

Even more staggering than the gap between those with and without a degree is how that gap has widened over the years:

Source: Pew Research Center.

As you can see, for the "Silents" generation -- those born between 1925 and 1942 -- a college degree only meant a person could expect to earn 15% more money each year than someone with a two-year degree. Yet for the Millennial generation, that gap has ballooned to more than 50%.

Much needs to be done about the ballooning costs of college and the impact the rising costs have on millions of lives. However, while the cost college is rising at a startling pace, perhaps even more frightening is the rapidly expanding ultimate cost of not going to college.

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Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (13)

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  • Report this Comment On February 15, 2014, at 7:05 PM, Sasshattery wrote:

    So if you are a single mom too poor to send your kids to college... she should use this article to taunt her kids and tell them to stop working so hard for excellent grades because there's no hope no matter how hard they work.

  • Report this Comment On February 15, 2014, at 11:42 PM, SassyJen wrote:

    Sasshattery, if you are truly poor, there are such things as scholarships, grants, and loans. I am poor. I live below the poverty line. I'm also about to graduate with a dual degree and $60k in loans. Once I finish my master's degree, it will be over $100k. My mom discouraged my going to college and taking out loans 20 years ago. I might be 70 before my loans are paid off now, but I will be educated :) My neighbors are poor as well. Their child will graduate next month and she is looking at a full scholarship to NYU. It can be done. I think this article was an attempt to tell people that although people balk at rising tuition costs and student loans, that option is better than a high school diploma.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 1:44 AM, BambiB wrote:

    Not sure what this graph is supposed to show. The y axis isn't labeled and high school students appear to be more "something" than people with some college/2year degree. No mention of people with bachelors, masters, phds…

    I'm guessing someone without a high school diploma put this graph together using the "infinite number of monkeys" method.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 7:35 AM, Sifu wrote:

    Maybe too many college administrators making too much money and not knowing how to manage?

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 10:06 AM, ProfEm wrote:

    Furthermore, some of those college graduates living in poverty may be graduate students living on stipends.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 4:08 PM, JohanStrauss wrote: may very well earn a Master's degree and be "educated", but that doesn't make you *smart*. And having $100,000 in student loans doesn't sound too smart to me. I see folks with fancy degrees every day, and I marvel at how they can even get out of bed each day without breaking their fool necks. I mean, come on. How hard is it to open a door? (btw, before you squawk, I have a measly little Bachelor's...which I earned while getting $25,000 tax-free for giving four years of my life to the cavalry. I only make $30K a year...but I love my job, drive a new car, live in a nice +1700sf house in a good neighborhood, and have *two* savings accounts which I contribute to regularly for when I take early retirement in less than five years.)

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 8:16 PM, jake1322 wrote:

    I honestly think this study leaves some important information off of the table. First being that you have to take the payment cost of that college degree off of the salary of the said individual because that is a debt that people who did not attend college do not have to pay. Then you have to factor in that the non college educated who have attended a trade school or apprenticed into a trade have can and often do start in the $40-50,000 range. I am talking about welders, electricians, licensed plumbers, and other trade specific skills. Furthermore the demand for those positions and job vacancies in those fields are growing quite quickly. The average electrical worker in the United States is in the mid forties and growing older. In the next 15 years there will be a large loss of skilled labor which will also drive up demand and salaries for those positions. It gets under my skin when I read that college is the important for someone to make a good wage because the writers always overlook or demean the value of skill trades whether they mean to or not. I can make $27.00-35.00/hr after 1 year of apprenticeship as an electrician with little cost to me and no assumed debt or I can make that same wage with $40,000 in debt. Please write an article about that and take a look at for more information about the skilled trades because my area of expertise is with the electrical side but college is not necessary, we don't need federally backed loans turning students into indentured servants. OK rant over, sorry about that

  • Report this Comment On February 17, 2014, at 2:19 AM, Artie wrote:

    I completely dismiss out of hand any article that treats a "college degree" as if one shows up at college, takes generic classes for 4 years, and is awarded a Generic Bachelors of Collegeness. There is an *enormous* difference between the most highly paid majors and the lowest paid majors, a couple of which actually manage to average *less* than a HS diploma. Treating them as if they are all one identical degree is absurd. Would you shop for a car without having any idea what model of car you would get until after you paid for it, as if all cars were of identical value? Any discussion about whether or not to attend college, or how much one is willing to borrow to do so, that does not factor in what one might major in is a waste of time. Long gone are the days when one could afford to bum around for a few years in college before deciding what to major in.

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Patrick Morris

After a few stints in banking and corporate finance, Patrick joined the Motley Fool as a writer covering the financial sector. He's scaled back his everyday writing a bit, but he's always happy to opine on the latest headline news surrounding Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett and all things personal finance.

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