People worry a lot about the cost of college. Parents fret about paying the bills. Think-tank sages pull their chins and fret about rising tuition and levels of student debt. There's no question that college costs some serious dough. The College Board, makers of the SAT, estimate that tuition, room and board, and all other related expenses come to about $11,000 a year for students at in-state public colleges and almost $24,000 for private institutions. No wonder, then, that Americans gobbled up $37 billion in student loans last year.
But maybe all that expense and debt is worthwhile. How much a college education costs may be less important than how much a college education might be worth. Or, as the debt set might put it, "What kind of return can I expect from my investment in college?"
The answer: a big one. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that, in 1999, college graduates earned 76 percent more than people whose education ended with high school. This "earnings premium" nearly doubled from 38 percent in 1979. Over a 40-year career, the cost of not going to college adds up to nearly half a million dollars. Which helps explain why enrollments–and student debt–continue to grow.