How Can We Make College More Affordable for Americans?

How can we make college more affordable for Americans? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Mary Daly, SVP & Economist at Federal Reserve Bank San Francisco, on Quora.

This is an important question and one that I don't have an easy solution for. But there are things worth trying including increasing the number of positions at community colleges, beefing up online learning opportunities as complements to university life, and teaching young people and their families about selective shopping for the best educational value for their buck. We don't all have to go to Harvard.

But let's broaden the affordability debate and remember that college is an investment. And like all investments, college has an investment arc:

  1. Invest. You pay for college, the costs are tuition, opportunity cost of not working, any interest payments from loans you have to take.
  2. You start paying off the investment. You earn higher salary with a college degree and you can think of that as your rate of return on college. Today, the average American breaks even on the college investment in ten years.
  3. You earn pure rate of return on your investment. You get the increased salary, but you've already paid for the investment and this goes on for a lifetime.

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