College remains a good investment

Despite rising costs, college is still a good investment, concludes the Hamilton Project.

Even if we assume that all students actually pay tuition at the published rates, the bottom line is this: while college may be 50 percent more expensive now than it was 30 years ago, the increase to lifetime earnings that a college degree brings is 75 percent higher. In short, the cost of college is growing, but the benefits of college—and, by extension, the cost of not going to college—are growing even faster.

In 1980, four years at a university cost an average of $56,000 (adjusted for inflation), including tuition, fees and foregone income, Hamilton estimates. In 2010, four years of college cost more than $82,000, a nearly 50 percent increase. However, financial aid also has increased, moderating the sticker price for students and their parents. “According to the College Board, the actual cost of a four-year degree has remained relatively constant over the last 15 years.”

Someone starting college in 2010 can expect to earn $450,000 more over a lifetime compared to a high school graduate, Hamilton estimates.