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College Isn't Always the Way to Get Ahead. It's a Way to Not Fall Behind

A quarter of college grads make no more than the typical high school grad.
Photographer: Laurie Rubin/Getty Images

For generations of Americans, a college degree was the best way to advance. These days, it may be a way to avoid losing ground.

That’s the unfortunate reality facing millions of Americans in an era of stagnant wages and soaring higher-education costs. Encouraged by government officials to seek out further education and provided with hundreds of billions of dollars in cheap taxpayer-backed credit to finance those dreams, Americans in recent years flocked to college campuses to obtain credentials they hoped would lead to more fulfilling or better-paying jobs.