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Majority of Americans don’t think college degree is worth cost: poll

FILE – With the Founders Library in the background, a young man reads on Howard University campus July 6, 2021, in Washington. For millions of Americans, President Joe Biden’s student loan cancellation offers a life-changing chance to escape the burden of debt. But for future generations of students, it doesn’t fix the underlying reason for the crisis: the rising cost of college. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

A majority of Americans do not believe that a college degree is worth the cost to obtain one, according to a new poll. 

The poll from the Wall Street Journal and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago found 56 percent of respondents said they believe earning a four-year degree is not worth the cost, while 42 percent said it is worth it. 

The results show a decline in the share of people who believe college is worth the cost in recent years, with the percentage who say it is worth it falling from 53 percent in 2013 and from 49 percent in 2017. 

The Journal reported that Ted Mitchell, the president of the American Council on Education, said the results are “sobering” and a “wake-up call” for those in higher education. 

“We need to do a better job at storytelling, but we need to improve our practice, that seems to me to be the only recipe I know of regaining public confidence,” he said. 

Mitchell said rising student debt, which has hit $1.7 trillion in total, and a 60 percent graduation rate at four-year institutions are the two most significant issues that are hurting confidence in higher education. 

Pollsters found decreasing confidence among women and older Americans are the main sources of the overall drop. The percentage of women who felt confidence that a four-year college is worth the cost dropped from 54 percent in 2017 to 44 percent in the most recent poll, and the percentage of people 65 and older dropped from 56 percent in 2017 to 44 percent. 

The findings come as the cost of attending higher education has soared in recent years, well surpassing the rate of inflation. The cost of attending Ivy League institutions has recently approached $90,000 a year. 

President Biden’s plan to forgive thousands of dollars in student loan debt for many borrowers was debated in front of the Supreme Court at the end of February. The court is expected to rule on whether the plan is constitutional by the end of its term in June. 

The poll was conducted from March 1 to 13 among 1,019 adults. The margin of error was 4.1 percentage points.

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