The NYT ran a column highlighting new research by Tim Bartik and Brad Hershbein showing that the earnings premium from graduating college is not the same for everyone. Specifically, the research finds that the premium is lower for people from lower-income families than for people from middle-income families.
It is good to see this divergence in experiences getting attention in the paper. While this has been known to researchers for many years (see this 2010 piece by John Schmitt and Heather Boushey), the NYT in general, and columnist David Leonhardt in particular, have often presented increased college attendance as a panacea for income inequality.
As that paper showed, there was a growing divergence in income outcomes for college graduates among men. (This was less the case among women.) Many, many college grads earned less than high school grads, suggesting that they had gained little income by going to college. Since many incurred substantial debt, college was likely, on net, a losing proposition for them economically.
Also, many people who enter college do not graduate. When the risk of not graduating is taken into account, it is understandable that many young men have chosen not to attend college. Hopefully, this more recent research will make the basic facts about college and earnings more widely known to people in policy circles.