The common and responsible thing to say about college is: go! The statistics are persuasive. In the last 30 years, real earnings have increased for men who finish college and go on to graduate degrees, while they have fallen for the rest. This chart courtesy of the Hamilton Project makes the picture very clear:
Here's the central paradox of American jobs and education. While benefits from going to college are increasing exponentially, the fastest growing jobs aren't for high-earning college graduates. They're for low-wage workers. Retail sales persons, cashiers, and food preparation workers are adding more jobs than any in the country. Their combined median wages are below $10.
In the last year, middle income jobs have been hit the hardest, while lower-income jobs have grown faster than high-income jobs. Does that mean the benefits from going to college are actually falling?
Not so fast. Even today, the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job. Cheap work is easier to find these days, but maybe that's normal. We should expect nervous employers to add clerks and temps before they free up $300,000 to add a senior account manager.
Instead, something more complicated is happening. The first graph showing wages rising for the highly educated and falling for the less-educated makes education sound like an elevator. The longer the stay, the higher you go. But the market is really less like an elevator and more like two floors without a staircase to connect them. Job opportunities are growing at the top, where wages are rising, and at the bottom, where wages aren't. But opportunities for middle-education, middle-paid workers have frozen over the last two decades.