Even Some College Education is of Value

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Over the years, I have written about the value of a college degree. Study after study reflects the clear value of earning at least a bachelor’s degree in terms of earnings over a lifetime, professional success, personal satisfaction and levels of community engagement. But a recent study released by the Hamilton Project entitled, “Is Starting College and Not Finishing Really That Bad?” piqued my interest.

The Hamilton Project began in 2006 as an economic policy initiative at the Brookings Institution. It is named after Alexander Hamilton, this country’s first Secretary of the Treasury, who is credited with laying the foundation for the modern American economy.

The Project brings together “leading academics, business people, and public policy makers who wanted to develop a serious, systematic strategy to address the challenges that our economy faces.”  The Project regularly publishes papers and books and sponsors events intended to both inform and encourage the national debate on the nation’s economy including topics like economic security, energy and health care.

Its self-described focus is as follows:

“From its first strategy paper, the Project set forth a clear policy path to promote our nation’s economic health, a strategy based on three interrelated principles: that economic growth must be broad-based to be strong and sustainable over the long term; that economic security and economic growth can be mutually reinforcing; and that an effective government can improve economic performance. These ideas, especially in combination, offer a strikingly different vision from the economic policies that contributed to the alarming trends in rising income inequality and a mounting federal deficit.”

This most recent report analyzed the nation’s employment statistics. As you may recall, 175,000 new jobs were added in May. However, the unemployment rate moved up to 7.6%. According to the Hamilton Project’s analysis, “the broadest measure of employment --- the employment-to-population ratio --- was 58.6%, the same as a year ago. It has remained roughly at the same level since late 2009.”

The report goes on to remind us that the analysis of employment data over the past years has consistently shown two important things:

-       Workers with more education continue to be employed at higher rates than their less educated counterparts; and,

-       Workers with more education continue to earn more than their less educated counterparts.

As so many reports have shown, the rates of return attributed to two-year, four-year and graduate degrees are high.

But “Is Starting College and Not Finishing Really That Bad?” asks and answers a very important question… what is the impact for people who start a two-year or four-year degree, but fail to complete their degree program? This question is important in relation to understanding employment data, but also in light of the increasing costs of education and the amount of debt all students incur regardless of the length of their college career.

This study provides very compelling evidence that even just starting college has a positive impact on a person’s career earnings. And next week, I will share more of the details. It will be worth the wait!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Saturday, 19 April 2014