The American education system is at a crossroads. With increasing instructional costs, lagging student performance and decreasing job prospects, never before have there been so many questions about the country’s elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools.

The national unemployment rate is 8.2 percent; for Blacks, it hovers at around 14 percent, and the achievement gap between Blacks and Whites continues to widen. The National Center for Education Statistics found in 2011 that Black and Hispanic students trailed behind their White peers by an average of more than 20 test score points—two grade levels—on the national math and reading assessments in fourth and eighth grades.

With the economy teetering on the brink of a double-dip recession, which education choices make the most financial sense? On the following pages, we answer the most-asked questions to help you make an informed educational and financial decision about primary school, higher education and financing college.