McKinsey & Company

McKinsey on Society


Voices Jobs for the young & restless

DEBATE: Does a traditional college education in the US still make sense given the costs and the state of the economy?

Anthony Carnevale


Anthony Carnevale
Director – Center on Education and the Workforce
Georgetown University

It makes more sense all the time. The salary premium for college grads continues to rise while the number of jobs for those with just a high school education is shrinking fast. Over the course of a lifetime, a college degree is worth an extra $1 million in earnings and as the baby boomers retire, demand for highly educated workers will only climb. Even a technical degree will lead to more opportunity than high school alone.

Gagan Biyani


Gagan Biyani

Unless you go to an elite college, a four-year diploma is not worth the time or the money it takes to get. It won’t lead to a great job and there are better ways to acquire knowledge. Thanks to the Internet, you can now learn just about any subject from some of the world’s best teachers for free or close to free. So save your money. Start a business or intern instead. You can always go online to teach yourself what you can’t learn on the job.


Between April and June 2012, hundreds of people weighed in on the debate, offering their opinions, submitting comments, and even changing their minds. Ultimately, 68% of people believe a traditional college education makes sense. Tell us what you think.

E-mail alerts

Get our latest knowledge emailed to you

Follow us