At a recent conference in Indianapolis Lumina Foundation President Jamie Merisotis made an interesting point about the real reason to try increase college graduation in America. According to his speech:

I know that you are all very familiar with Lumina. Still, I want to briefly remind you what we do, and especially to explain why we do what we do. Since I arrived at Lumina in 2008, all of our efforts have been focused on getting the nation to what we call “Goal 2025” or simply, the Big Goal. You all know what that is: By the year 2025, we want 60 percent of Americans to hold high-quality college degrees and credentials.

So, why is it so important to increase college attainment? And what role can this effort play in rebuilding our middle class? The answer to both questions can be summed up in a single four-letter word … a word that is on the lips of every pundit and politician these days: jobs.

This is because the sort of jobs that require college credentials generally pay better, at the level that allow people to lead a more or less middle-class lifestyle.

But issuing more college credentials isn’t necessarily the most effective way to increase the actual size of the middle class, especially if people assume debt to go to college.

Giving more people college degrees won’t necessarily provide them with professional jobs if those jobs don’t exist, or if they don’t pay well. From a purely economic perspective, dramatically increasing the number of people with college degrees could also have the effect of reducing professional salaries, since more people would then be competing for a limited number of professional jobs, allowing employers to pay less.

That being said, more college graduates would simply increase the number of educated people in the United States, which might increase entrepreneurship, invention, and just plain good ideas. Maybe, but it’s not an entirely safe bet.

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Daniel Luzer

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