It has a narrative problem
I wonder if a fourth factor is more hidden: the high number of students who go to college but don’t graduate. In a large national study, Clark and Allensworth study HS GPA and ACT/SAT scores as a predictor of college graduation. For example, students with a 3.0 to 3.25 HS GPA only graduate in 6 years about half the time in average. Think about the huge number of students who go to college, pay (or borrow) a ton of money, and leave without much to show for it. I imagine this group has lost a lot of faith and confidence in higher ed. Does most of the ROI data about the value of college only study people who actually graduated?
Universities in America still serve a role as a socioeconomic “sorting-hat’ for attendees. Many parents and students value this function; indeed it may be the most important factor in determining their choice. Should it influence ROI calculations?
So many possible variables to consider...! (The fun stuff, truly, is thinking about all the possible explanations.) Type of college, non-profit or for-profit; 2-year or 4-year. Age at enrollment or re-enrollment – 18? 23? etc. Type of college – residential, dormitory, traditional age students, OR commuter, mixed-age, etc. How much debt is incurred and what sorts (parent-cosigned loans? loans via federal gov't?) What is a person told or led to believe about 'college' and it as an investment or a goal? Is there a perception that 'college' alone 'should' bring heaps of job offers and life satisfaction? I could go on and on from my sociological perspective....