HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE: America’s High-Risk, High-Reward Higher Education System.

The wage premium attached to a BA is higher than ever, and AA’s have considerable labor market value as well. This is the “high reward” part.

But for too many others, it’s a risky investment. Many who start higher education never finish a credential. Just 31 percent of those students from the bottom income quartile who start college finish a bachelor’s degree. Recent data suggests that the returns to “some college” have essentially fallen to zero. Even among those who do finish, there’s a risk that the investment won’t pay off. One study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York show that the 25th percentile of bachelor’s degree recipients earn no more than a high school graduate, and haven’t since the 1970s.

Yes, that’s why the simplistic defenders of “a college degree” are being naive — or dishonest. There’s no such thing as a generic college degree, and the return on investment varies a lot. What’s more, there are many risks that are, from the standpoint of an 18-year-old college applicant, imponderable.