Yes Tucker, College is Worth It.
By Wesley Whistle and Tamara Hiler
When we saw on Twitter yesterday that Tucker Carlson had run a new segment called “Is College Worth It?,” we knew we had to tune in. As policy buffs thinking daily about the importance of higher education and making sure the system is properly equipping students with the skills and credentials they need to succeed, we welcome new conversations about college value and what having a college degree should mean. It was a relief to see that Carlson stated early on that “the main driver of upward mobility in America is higher education,” and he acknowledged that students who don’t finish college are the ones most likely to struggle to pay back their loans. Unfortunately, his diagnosis of the problem was riddled with errors and factual inaccuracies.
For one, Carlson seemed to misunderstand the indisputable economic benefits around higher education. His claim that there aren’t enough jobs to support the students going to college is not only eyebrow raising, but just plain wrong. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that all net new jobs created in the last decade went to college graduates — and job losses continue to impact those without college degrees. And by 2020, two-thirds of all jobs will require some sort of postsecondary education. These jobs span across majors and program areas — even those that ostensibly seem like they may lead to lower earnings, like psychology, which Carlson uses as an example of a major not worthy of federal loans. While earnings of students do differ by major, data highlighting the median lifetime earnings of a psychology graduate shows them making nearly a million dollars more than a high school graduate.
By 2020, two-thirds of all jobs will require some sort of postsecondary education.
Carlson also gets the premise of the “student debt crisis” wrong. Citing the $1.4 trillion in student loans and an average debt of $34,000, he ignores the increase of students going to college as well as the large percentage of that debt that comes from students borrowing for graduate school. The real student debt crisis stems not from the total debt amount, but from low rates of completion. Students who don’t graduate are three times as likely to default on their loans, and two-thirds of defaulters have less than $10,000 in debt. It’s also rooted in inequity. For example, new research found black graduates are more likely to default than white non-graduates, likely due to continuing discrimination in the job market and historic wealth disparities by race.
Lastly, public opinion disagrees with Carlson, too. While the segment claimed that “the majority of students regret their decision to go to college,” the data very clearly shows something different. Recent opinion polling found that 89% of the public thought students should get an education beyond high school and 86% said getting a good job was easier with education beyond a high school degree. Another poll found that this is true across parties. Nearly 60% of “Trump County” voters strongly agreed with that and another 25% somewhat agreed, showing that across the board, college is still an investment most Americans want to make.
To respond to Carlson’s question, “Is college worth it?,” we believe emphatically that the answer is still absolutely yes. Higher education is no longer a luxury, but a necessity to compete in today’s digital economy. Still, for far too many students, college completion and success is not the reality. Only half of all students who start college graduate and nearly 60% are unable to start paying down their loans. So while we welcome any conversation about the value of college, we hope that next time it will focus on how we can work together to make sure all colleges are better serving their students.
Wesley Whistle is an education policy advisor and Tamara Hiler is deputy director of education at Third Way.