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Making College Worth It: A Review of Research on the Returns to Higher Education

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Listed:
  • Philip Oreopoulos
  • Uros Petronijevic

Abstract

Recent stories of soaring student debt levels and under-placed college graduates have caused some to question whether a college education is still a sound investment. In this paper, we review the literature on the returns to higher education in an attempt to determine who benefits from college. Despite the tremendous heterogeneity across potential college students, we conclude that the investment appears to payoff for both the average and marginal student. During the past three decades in particular, the earnings premium associated with a college education has risen substantially. Beyond the pecuniary benefits of higher education, we suggest that there also may exist non-pecuniary benefits. Given these findings, it is perhaps surprising that among recent cohorts college completion rates have stagnated. We discuss potential explanations for this trend and conclude by succinctly interpreting the evidence on how to make the most out of college.

Suggested Citation

  • Philip Oreopoulos & Uros Petronijevic, 2013. "Making College Worth It: A Review of Research on the Returns to Higher Education," NBER Working Papers 19053, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19053
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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