Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Many American high school graduates face a difficult choice: They can pursue higher education and the higher earnings it provides, but that means taking on debt that it may take them decades to pay back. Or they can forego a college degree and its attendant debt but be stuck earning lower wages for their entire lives. For many of these students, there is no viable third option. From an early age, many Americans have been told about the value of a college degree-without one, finding a job is difficult and lifetime income is severely depressed. Data relating educational attainment to unemployment rates and wages indicate that these assertions are probably true. In 2013, the unemployment rate for those with a high school diploma was nearly double that of Americans with bachelor's degrees, and persons without a high school diploma were almost three times as likely to be unemployed as college graduates.' Educational attainment also relates directly to earnings. In 2013, median earnings for persons with bachelor's degrees were $1,108 per week, while workers with only a high school diploma and those without a diploma earned $651 and $472, respectively. The highest earners are those with professional degrees, who earned a median $1,714 per week in 2013, for an annual salary just over $90,000. Thus, for many Americans, seeking higher education has a foreseeable financial benefit. However, especially as the costs of higher education increase, many students and their families find themselves lacking sufficient capital to finance their educations.