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Considering the actual benefits of college

Mortarboard with price tag

Jeremy Hobson: President Obama heads Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria today To highlight the value of a highly trained workforce. But he's got some convincing to do. A recent study shows a 57 percent of Americans don't think a college degree is good value.

For more on this, let's bring in LA Times Consumer Columnist David Lazarus. Good morning.

David Lazarus: Good morning.

Hobson: Well David, as students graduate from college, as they are doing now, if they are able to find a job -- which is hard to do right now -- how long do you think they're going to have to work to pay off their college debt?

Lazarus: It's longer and longer, it looks like. According to the figures that are out there, the average amount of debt that a college student is carrying is $23,000. That's an awful lot of money. And that's a big reason that the Pew Research Center has found in their latest study that a majority of Americans say that college is just unaffordable and not worth the price.

Hobson: Not worth the price. That's something we're hearing over and over again now -- is it worth the cost in this economy?

Lazarus: It's an interesting question, especially when you're facing that much debt and such tough prospects are finding the job. Not to mention the cost of tuition. The average cost for a four-year public university: about $20,000 a year in tuition, that doesn't even include room and board; $35,000 a year for a private university. So yeah, that's a lot of money. But I don't know, I look at that Pew number and I think people are sort of just responding more to these tough times than they are to the actual value of an education because let's face it, people with a college education do fare better in the marketplace -- when they can get a job. They tend to get more money, they tend to have better advancement prospects. So you would think that this education does provide the foundation most people need to advance in the world.

Hobson: L.A. Times consumer columnist David Lazarus, thanks so much.

Lazarus: Thank you.

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