What If Everyone Went to College?

David Fazekas
What If?

Frat parties, hacky sack and living parents-free are not the only benefits of attending college. According to the Pew Research Center, getting that bachelor’s degree can boost your salary 38 percent, yet college graduates remain the minority in this country at around 30 percent. So we wondered, what if everyone went to college?

According to the Institute of Education Science, more than 21 million people trudged through S-A-T’s, A-C-T’s and entrance exams to enroll in college in 2011. 60 percent of those will end up paying an average of $30,000 over the course of their lifetime to pay for college. The trillion dollars in total outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. would balloon if everyone went to college, leaving graduates in massive debt.

“You'd end up with people that are over-trained and somewhat inflexible on the jobs that they can take,” said William Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird. “I kind of feel like it would be a negative for the economy. You'd have more people in debt and people not able to be as free to take risks because they'd be burdened by that debt.”

And with more graduates, finding a job would get even more competitive, forcing those with middling GPA’s to take fast-food jobs just to pay off their crippling student loan debt.

“I think if everyone has a bachelor’s degree, it's suddenly not impressive. It becomes the new high school diploma,” said Stacey Einhorn, an independent educational consultant from Einhorn-Wrubel Educational Consultants. “Grad school would be the new expectation.”

And with grad school comes even more debt. The average grad student in 2012 owed close to $58,000 in loans, according to the New America Foundation. Of the 12 million students with college loans, about 30 percent will eventually drop out according to the Institute for Higher Education Policy. And of those dropouts, about 26 percent will eventually default on their loans, compared to the 16 percent of college grads, that won’t meet their loan obligations. The number of dropouts would surely swell if everyone went to college.

“A lot of people would fail out of college,” said Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Today, a lot of people get to college unprepared and end up in remedial courses and almost never get past those courses.”

In order to stay out of massive debt, prospective students may have to acquire their college and master’s degrees online.

“If they take the courses online and move some of their majors online, I think that would be a great solution,” said Einhorn. “It would keep costs down and it would allow for an immediate approach to enrolling a large number of students.”

Right now, about 53 percent of Americans, between the ages of 25 and 34, hold a college degree. But President Obama is pushing for a 60 percent graduation rate by the year 2020.

“If we were able to maintain standards and we were amazingly able to get everybody by the age of 18 prepared for college that would be an incredible accomplishment,” said Petrilli. “We would have done something that no country in the history of the world has ever done, which is to not only have universal public education, but universal high quality public education. And that would be a great success story.”

Host: Dan Kloeffler
Producer, DP: David Fazekas
Associate Producer: Stefan Doyno
Editor: Maurice Abbate