“Only about half of all people who enter colleges manage to get a degree,” said David Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief of The New York Times. “[Yet] with all the problems [in higher education], it continues to deliver a phenomenal return.” Leonhardt pointed to the 3.8-percent unemployment rate for college graduates, a much stronger figure than the current 7.9-percent national unemployment rate.

“There are massive gaps by economic status,” said Leonhardt.

John Sexton, president of New York University, agreed that educators must not “exasperate the exclusion.”

Sexton expressed concerns that educators might focus too much on what he called “the cost cloud.” He suggested that educators can become too concerned with lowering educational costs and, in turn, diminish educational quality.

It is evident that today’s students are still feeling the effects of the “Great Recession” of 2008. Studies show that in recent years, the number of people graduating from college has decreased, and 2011 also showed a decline in the number of students enrolling in college.

These figures lead many to wonder if college attendance is worth its often hefty price tag.

National survey results show that 83 percent of all college graduates believe college was a good investment, and 76 percent of 18- to 30-year-old college graduates surveyed agreed.

Most who were surveyed believe that the American higher-education system remains globally elite. Seventy-five percent of the national sample believes that American colleges are ahead of all or most of other countries’ colleges. More 18- to 30-year-olds surveyed were concerned about America’s global competitiveness than older Americans surveyed.

Northeastern’s Aoun outlined what he believes are the top four concerns for today’s students: cost of education, heightening global competition, the lackluster job market, and the belief that there are generally fewer opportunities for them than there were for their parents.

“They want to be given opportunities to practice, to risk, to fail, and to start all over again,” said Aoun. “They want global proficiency.”

Aoun also cited students’ desire for greater flexibility, online opportunities, a better balance of studying and working, and entrepreneurship.

Prateek Tandon, an economist at World Bank, agreed that today’s students need to hone non-technical skills, too. He asserted that today’s employers seek workers with strong leadership and communicative skills who are willing to be team players.