NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — College is getting more expensive, and a recent study from Sallie Mae shows that parents are funding less of it -- with their contributions dropping from 36% to 27%. Belief in the institution's value remains steady, though the gap between tuition and take-home pay grows wider and challenges for new grads grow stronger. Questioning college's worth occurs now more than ever.

Finding The Benefits Of College

The notion that any student attending any college equals success, has become such the norm that research from Penn State found up to 80% of students enter college without any idea of what they plan to study -- equating to a $35,000 stab in the dark. As such, the current dropout rate for students at four-year schools is over 40%.

The Brookings Institute argues there is a glitch in the traditional understanding of college's benefits:

"Not all college degrees are created equal: there is a huge variation in the return to a bachelor's degree, depending on choice of major and occupation; school type and selectivity level; as well as the likelihood of graduating.

Today only 51% of young graduates have found full-time employment. And being employed may not necessarily mean with satisfaction for the employer.

The Manpower Group would agree. The recruitment company conducts a global survey of employers each year concerning their talent shortages. Their latest report found:

"U.S. employers report a slightly more pronounced talent shortage than their global peers.... According to the survey, nearly half (49%) of U.S. employers recognize that talent shortages impact their ability to serve clients and customers."

The biggest complaint of employers: new hires lack technical competency and hard skills. And yet for today's graduates, the struggle does not end upon finding a job. Obtaining a degree didn't do much for brightening recent graduates' career expectations.

According to Rutgers University:

  • Nearly half of recent graduates held jobs that didn't require a four-year degree
  • Only 1 in 5 grads were confident their degree could secure them a successful career
  • Only about a quarter could refer to their current work as a career

That being said, most experts still agree a college education is the best option for someone seeking financial success in life.

"There is some confusion out there," says Michael Greenstone, Director of the Hamilton Project and a professor at MIT. "It's true that college grads are having a harder time than under normal circumstances, but their unemployment rates are much lower than people who didn't go to college and that sometimes gets lost."

The Hamilton Project has discovered as much:

"Of all individuals without a high school diploma, age 25 and older, only 39.9% had a job; for high school graduates with no additional education, the employment rate was 54.5%; for individuals with an associate's degree it was 68.6%; and for graduates with a bachelor's or higher it was 73.2%.