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Fewer Americans think a college degree is worth it

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(NewsNation) — Americans are losing faith in the value of a college degree. That’s the takeaway from multiple polls over the past year that have all shown a downward trend when it comes to confidence in higher education.

Just 36% of respondents in a recent Gallup poll said they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot of confidence” in higher education. In 2015, 57% of those surveyed said the same.

Earlier this year, a Wall Street Journal/NORC poll found that 56% of adults think a four-year college is “not worth the cost,” compared to 40% who thought so in 2013.

The changing sentiment has been reflected in college enrollment numbers, which plummeted during the pandemic in 2020 and have yet to recover to where they were.

Last spring, there were an estimated 16.9 million people enrolled in higher education institutions, down from 18.2 million in spring 2019, according to National Student Clearinghouse data.

Ana Hernández Kent, a senior researcher for the Institute for Economic Equity at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, joined “NewsNation Now” on Friday to discuss the ongoing trend.

She said the broader decline in college enrollment has been going on for well over a decade.

“Many people had decided to go into college during the Great Recession because there weren’t a lot of jobs,” said Kent. “Now, it’s kind of the opposite.”

In fact, younger Generation Z Americans are the group most likely to say a high school diploma is the minimum education needed “to ensure financial security.” But is that true?

As far as the long-term payoff, calculating the value of a college degree can be tricky. When it comes to earnings, college graduates make more money, on average, than those with only a high school diploma.

However, Kent said income is just one part of the story because it doesn’t capture the cost of attending college. When you factor in how much those who go to college actually pay, the “college wealth premium” is much smaller and has declined over the years.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the group least likely to say the benefits of attending college outweighed the costs were those who didn’t graduate.

“The ones that are really hurting are those that went to college, probably took out some debt, and didn’t get that four-year degree,” Kent said.

You can watch the full interview with Kent in the player above.

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