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A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center has revealed that a majority of Americans do not believe that going into debt for a four-year college degree is worth it. The survey of 5,200 respondents found that only 22% feel that college is worth the cost if a student has to take on loans, while 47% believe it is only worth it if no loans are needed. This skepticism towards the value of college is also shared by college graduates, with only a third saying college is worth the cost if loans are required.

The cost of higher education in the U.S. has been steadily increasing, with total student debt exceeding $1.6 trillion and the average loan balance for graduates in 2021-22 topping $29,000. Some universities are now charging over $80,000 a year for tuition, fees, room, and board. Despite these soaring costs, earnings for young adults aged 25 to 34 without college degrees have been on the rise over the past decade. However, there is still a significant earnings gap between those with and without college degrees.

In 2023, the median earnings for young men with a bachelor’s degree were $77,000, 71% more than those with only a high school diploma, while young women with a bachelor’s degree earned a median of $65,000, 81% more than their counterparts with only a high school diploma. The majority of younger workers in the U.S. have not completed college, with 19 million out of 36 million workers aged 25 to 34 having completed only some college or less.

Employers have begun to shift towards skills-based hiring strategies and have started to remove degree requirements from job postings. However, a recent study found that most employers embracing this strategy have not yet increased hiring of workers without college degrees for the reclassified jobs. Despite these changes in the job market, there is a growing belief among the American public that a college degree is less important in securing a well-paying job, with 49% saying it is less important than it was 20 years ago.

Republicans and Democrats alike are becoming more skeptical of the value of a college degree, with 57% of Republicans and 43% of Democrats saying it is less important to get a well-paying job compared to two decades ago. Overall, only 25% of adults believe that having a four-year degree is very or extremely important to securing a well-paying job, while 35% say it is somewhat important, and 40% say it is not too or not at all important. The study was conducted between Nov. 23 and Dec. 3, 2023, and the results were weighted to be representative of the entire adult population with respect to race, gender, ethnicity, and partisan affiliation, relying on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve.

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