“Applying more realistic assumptions,” the researchers wrote, “we show that many students — particularly young men who cannot access top-tier universities — face an economic return to college that, while positive on average, can reasonably inspire caution among student and their parents.”

College is still worth it for the average student. But Benson’s study found returns are particularly modest for young men at the CSU system, mostly because of high dropout rates, delayed graduation and a lower effect on labor force participation compared with women.

“The return to a college degree in 2010,” researchers wrote, “could be less than the interest on unsubsidized Stafford loans.”