Graduation dissonance: Is college tuition worth it? No. And yes.

Graduation may give parents of college graduates buyer's remorse:  Pew studies shows 94 percent of parents expect their kids to go to college, but 57 percent question whether tuition was worth it.

Graduation dissonance: Is college tuition worth it? No. And yes. Anita Kalsi received her diploma during the University of New Hampshire commencement ceremony in Durham, N.H., May 19, 2012.

It’s graduation time. And with the caps and gowns and celebratory parties comes another, looming, reality for the high school set and their parents:  college tuition.

The Pew Research Center has conducted a number of studies over the past few years looking at college tuition and asking Americans whether they feel higher education is worth the cost, which is rising far faster than the rate of inflation.

There is some interesting feedback:

According to Pew, 94 percent of parents expect their child to go to college. But 57 percent of Americans say colleges fail to provide students with good value for the money spent. 

It seems contradictory, no?

But as Pew discovered, the complaints about value and cost are a bit like parents complaining about their teens' dirty rooms and poor driving. They might be distressed and disapproving, but they’re not kicking the kid out of the house.

The Pew surveys show that college is still ingrained in the American mentality as the universal post-high school goal; the path of opportunity and “making it” in the US.

Even if it’s super expensive.

And even if, as some college presidents seem to suggest by their answers to a 2011 survey, not all American students are college material.

(Four in 10 college presidents said the higher education system in the US is headed in the wrong direction, and said that the caliber of students in college has decreased significantly.)

There are, clearly, some good reasons for college.

Beyond the personal and intellectual benefits, Americans make about an average of $20,000 more a year if they have a college degree – that’s according to US Census data as well as estimates by college and high school graduates. (This, we should point out, masks a wide variation in returns-on-college-degrees. We hate to say mom and dad are right, but the engineering students do tend to make more than us history majors.)

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Meanwhile, 86 percent of college graduates say that higher education has been a good investment for them personally.

Even though 48 percent of students who take out college loans say that repaying the debt has made it harder to make ends meet.

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