More Evidence on the Value of a Degree

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Last week I shared with you both my philosophy of liberal education and the value of earning a degree. It should come as no surprise that not every reader of either my editorial or my blog agreed with me.

The anecdotes about less educated people with great financial success abound. The realities of student indebtedness should not be taken lightly. But despite the exceptions and the challenges of affordability, a college degree is a good investment. And we have even more evidence with a new report from the Pew Research Center entitled, “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College.”

The Pew study included a survey of 2,002 adults and an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. The survey was conducted through telephone interviews. The U.S. Census data was drawn primarily from the Current Population Survey (CPS) which is a monthly assessment of approximately 55,000 households and serves as the country’s official statistics on unemployment. All the data was collected in October 2013.

The results of the study can be best summarized by a quote from Paul Taylor, one of the co-authors of the report: “In today’s knowledge-based economy, the only thing more expensive than getting a college education is not getting one. Young adults see significant economic gains from getting a college degree regardless of the level of student debt they have taken on.”

There has always been an earnings’ gap between those with only a high school diploma and those with a college degree.   But this study reveals that this gap has widened dramatically. In 1965, the first year comparable data was analyzed, those with a high school diploma earned 81% of what a college educated person earned. In this most recent study, the earnings of a high school educated person have dropped to 61% of a college educated person’s earnings.

In addition, those without a college degree are more likely to live in poverty (21.8% vs. 5.8%), are unemployed at a higher rate (12.2% vs. 3.8%), and express greater dissatisfaction with their jobs (63% vs. 37%). Conversely, over 90% of college graduates value their degree and believe that it has significantly impacted their job opportunities and their earning potential. Even those who graduate with significant debt share these positive views at high levels (86%). Consistent with the research I reported last week, these high levels of satisfaction and these increased earnings are similar regardless of the graduate’s major or field of study.

It is also interesting to learn about college educated workers and their self-assessment of their college years. When asked what they might have done differently to better prepare for the world of work, 65% said they could have used more work experience during their college years; 40% said they would have been better prepared if they studied harder; 43% said they should have begun their job search sooner; and, 36% said they should have switched their major.

The economic challenges of the time and the global competitiveness for jobs are the realities confronted by today’s college graduates. But the evidence is clear. Their best chance for success is to complete their four-year degree or more. That’s not an educated guess … that’s a fact!

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

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Guest Monday, 28 July 2014