Perhaps worse yet, I think this framing – and especially the “increasing returns to a college degree” frame – suggests the wrong trend. Increasing returns to college sounds like a situation where the base wage for a high school graduate has been flat, while the wages of the college-educated have increased. Instead, what we see is the wages for those with high school degrees falling while wages for the college educated have stagnated. The Pew Research Center published a report that frames this story nicely as The Rising Cost of Not Going to College. This chart shows how all of the increase in the college-non college gap for young adults (25-32) since 1986 comes from declines at the bottom. To sum up: The “increasing returns to college” story makes attending college sound like a reward for a good choice, not a structured fact about unequal educational access, and it suggests a world in which college incomes are rising and non-college incomes are falling, rather than a world where the bottom is falling out. “The increasing penalty for not going to college” is a bit clunky, but (to my ear) solves those problems.
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