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Extra $800k in earnings still doesn't mean college is always worth it

Lauren Lyster
Daily Ticker

Is college worth it? According to a new study, it's worth at least $800,000 more than the alternative of skipping school.

A new study from the San Francisco Federal Reserve finds that over a lifetime, the average U.S. college graduate will earn $831,000 more than a peer who never went to college. That's after factoring in the cost of college tuition and the wages lost over the four years it usually takes to finish an undergraduate degree.

Related: Do parents 'owe' their children a college education?

So is this bit of evidence the final nail in the coffin for those who argue college might not be worth the cost? Maybe not. We talked to Steven Knapp, president of George Washington University, and William Bennett, former U.S. education secretary, on the sidelines of the Milken Institute Global Conference last week. Both presented a more nuanced view about what kind of higher education is right for students.

Related: Your chance of success will be higher if you’re born here

"We know there are a lot of mismatches that are occurring, between ... the interests [students] have, the preparation they have and the institutions they end up attending," says Knapp in the accompanying video. "And the best evidence for that is the dropout rate of students who may take out loans but don't complete their educations."

According to the Department of Education, the 2011 graduation rate for full-time undergraduate students who began working on a bachelor's degree at a four-year college/university in the fall 2005 and graduated within six years was 59%. (This excludes part-time students, as well as transfer students.)

Bennett has asserted in the past that only 150 out of 3500 colleges and universities are worth the investment, an assessment he told us he sticks to even as the unemployment rate for college grads is 3% compared to 6% for those who have completed high school only, according to the Labor Department.

Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) filed a bill Tuesday that would potentially allow millions of federal loan recipients to refinance that debt at the same rate as current recipients.

Check out the video to see what solutions Knapp and Bennett are advocating to help students finance higher ed.

Related: Could free college tuition be coming to California?

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