College Does Pay Off, but It’s No Free Ride

Carl Bialik:

The swelling ranks of unemployed young college graduates are left with a diploma, stacks of student-loan bills and lingering questions about just how much that degree is worth.
A million dollars? Sorry, say economists, but that widely reported figure significantly overstates the boost a bachelor’s degree gives to earnings over a career. The estimate isn’t baseless, but it doesn’t account for the cost of college, nor the opportunity cost of forgoing income during school.
Another complication: Even before stepping foot on campus, students who attend college generally have better earnings prospects than their high-school classmates who go straight to work. So any estimate of college’s monetary value needs to separate out those factors.