Evan Soltas looked at educational attainment across generations:
The high school dropout rate among people whose fathers were dropouts is 22.2 percent. The dropout rate with high-school-grad fathers is 2.9 percent. Let’s assume that the social value of a high school degree is $30,000 per graduate; that’s roughly the difference in average income between non-grads and grads. Public policy that supposes they are helping one person assesses the value of that degree at $30,000, obviously. Public policy that supposes they are helping an infinite succession of people assesses the value of that degree at $819,000.
America greatly admires people who were the first person in their family to go to college — and rightly so. We should put some real money, and some policy, where our admiration is. If we want to become a better-educated society, we have to target the low-lying fruit — the non-U families — rather than spending any extra effort on pushing a college education on the kind of people who are always going to get a degree anyway.