A simple economic argument advocates make for college is that college graduates are richer.

Even for graduates who assume huge debt levels, the debt is virtually always worth it, so the thinking goes, because they can earn so much more money. The median annual income for someone with a bachelor’s degree is $54,756. The median annual income for someone with only a high school diploma, in contrast, is $37,388.

But going onto debt to go to college doesn’t necessary mean those benefits accrue. That’s because not everyone who takes on debt graduates. According to a paper by Christopher Avery and Sarah Turner in the Journal of Economic Perspectives

One particularly negative outcome emerges: among students who anticipate completing a BA degree, 51.3 percent will end up with no degree and an average of $7,413 in student loans.

Granted, those who actually complete a degree end up owing more, but this is significant information. About half of those who take on debt to go to college never finish. But they still have to pay off that debt.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer