It's a well-circulated claim that a college degree adds about $1 million in lifetime earnings to the lucky B.A. recipient (I even used this in conversation over the weekend).
Now Charles Miller, head of the Dept. of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education says that figure is hyper-inflated:
Substituting some of his own assumptions for those used by the board—including six years of tuition costs (and hence two fewer years of work), private college tuition instead of in-state public tuition, etc.—Miller calculates his own college premium. "[P]roperly using the present value of the lifetime earnings, adjusted for the cost of going to college and the difference in the number of working years, and excluding those graduates with advanced degrees, calculated at the three percent discount rate used in the report," he wrote, "produces a lifetime earnings differential of only $279,893 for a bachelor's degree versus a high school degree!"
He writes: "With clearly questionable assumptions in the analysis traditionally used to prove that 'education pays,' with the reality of continually increasing costs of college above average inflation, with weak income growth in general, and with the reality of a very narrow economic benefit to the individual with a college education, it is reasonable to conclude that a college degree is not as valuable as has been claimed."
More here, from the always interesting Inside Higher Ed. It's an interesting debate, with a fair amount of stuff riding on the truth.
Related: Does it matter what school you go to?