(via The Hechinger Report)

With the cost of college steadily rising, and student debt continuing to overwhelm millions of borrowers, it would make sense if young adults questioned the value of a bachelor’s degree. But more than half of them still believe it’s worth the price tag.

Among 18- to 34-year-olds, 59 percent believe four-year schools are worth the cost, according to a new survey from American Public Media’s APM Research Lab and The Hechinger Report. While that’s about the same percentage for those of middle age who answered the same question (60 percent of adults ranging from ages 35 to 54), it’s noteworthy that so many millennials and Generation Z adults share this belief.  They are the ones most burdened by student loans.

“Cost is all about what you truly think the value of it is,” said Anthony Bernazani, a 34-year old graduate of a community college and a four-year school, George Mason University, both in Virginia. Bernazani, a defense contractor, believes that because of the job opportunities, salary and intellectual gains that can come with a degree, “the value that you get out of it is worth the cost.”

More than half of college students under age 30 took on debt to pay for their education, according to the Federal Reserve. The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that 45 percent of families whose head of household is below age 35 have student debt, but that percentage drops to 34 percent for those ages 35 to 44 and even lower for those 45 and older.

Despite the weight of student loans, borrowing for a bachelor’s degree offers a return on investment that will last a lifetime, higher education experts say.

With a four-year degree, “on average you make two-thirds more than high school graduates do,” said James Kvaal, president of the Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit group that works to improve college access and affordability. “You’re only about half as likely to be unemployed. It is worth borrowing money.”

It’s that idea of long-term gain over short-term pain that may be spurring young adults to keep borrowing, even as national student loan balances increased by $15 billion in the last quarter of 2018, according to the Center for Microeconomic Data at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

“I think people recognize, especially young Americans, that if you don’t go to college, you don’t have a lot of opportunities and avenues available to you,” said Rachel Fishman, deputy director for higher education research at New America, a think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C.

And compared to a certificate or an associate degree, on average, “the bachelor’s degree still performs better over someone’s lifetime in terms of return on investment,” she said.

Considering these statistics, she’s surprised more young adults don’t believe a four-year degree is worth the cost.

“I think it is a reflection of the anxiety people are feeling over how expensive a four-year degree in specific has gotten, and how a lot of the financing, especially for low- and middle-income students, for a four-year degree is going to take the form of a loan,” Fishman said.

Average one-year costs for tuition, fees and room and board at public colleges totaled $21,370 for in-state students and $37,430 for out-of-state students this year, and $48,510 for private college students, according to the College Board.

About 36 percent all American adults, regardless of age, believe college is not worth the cost, according to the APM-Hechinger Report survey. Of that 36 percent, 60 percent think the statement “people often graduate without specific job skills and with a large amount of debt” more closely aligns with their reasoning; 36 percent believe the statement “you can get a good job without a four-year degree” comes closest to their reasoning.

Tom Schuman is the senior vice president of communications & operations for the Indiana Chamber. He is also the editor of the Chamber’s award-winning BizVoice magazine and has been with the organization for 20 years.