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Is college still a good deal?

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Last year was a reckoning for colleges across the US. As the pandemic forced schools to send empty campuses and move classes online, students started to question whether it was worth the eye-popping cost.

The pandemic may have been the catalyst, but these rumblings have existed for a while in higher education: Even as workers are increasingly expected to have a college degree, tuition continues to far outpace the rate of inflation.

Student debt, which currently totals $1.7 trillion, hangs like a cloud over Americans for years after they receive their degree. College’s tacit promise of social mobility falls short when those who can’t pay can’t attend. Colleges recognize this dilemma, but shrinking funds mean they are too often forced to admit students who can pay.

But options are emerging for those that don’t want to take the traditional four-year on-campus route. Promising online schools offer cheaper, more flexible ways to get a degree. There’s also an emerging crop of skills-based programs that help get students job-ready in a matter of months.

The assumption that students will come to learn and live on college campuses is changing. The future of post-secondary education will be driven by student needs. To learn more, be sure to check out our latest presentation about whether college is still a good deal.

Keep scrolling to see all of the slides in our college presentation. Or, if you’d prefer, you can view the PDF version or download the PowerPoint file, which includes our sources and notes. This is one of an ongoing series of member-exclusive presentations, which you can read, reformat, and use as you wish.

Please share any feedback about what would make these presentations more useful—or topics you’d like to see us cover—by emailing us at These presentations are an exclusive benefit for Quartz members. We’d love it if you’d encourage any friends or colleagues who express interest to become a member so they can access them too.

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