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Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz Headshot

Are You Sure College Is Really Worth All The Time and Money?

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In the last few months, there has been a lot of hullabaloo around the issue of whether attending college is worth the time and money. Needless to say, there are proponents on either side who either say: 1) college costs too much and students don't really get that much out of it anyway, or 2) if young people want to get ahead in life, a college degree is essential. I am inclined to follow the latter dictum. Here are the reasons why.

According to the International Youth Foundation, the most important factor in economic mobility for people between the ages of 15 and 24 is education. While especially true for low income students, this also applies to all students. To wit:

  • Median earnings of people with bachelor's degrees were $55,700 a year compared to $21,900 for high school graduates
  • College graduates have much lower unemployment rates
  • The college-educated are more likely to receive health insurance coverage and pension benefits and be happier with their jobs
  • College educated parents are more involved with educational activities with their children AND those children are better prepared for every type of schooling

Even more astonishing is Stanford University professor Dr. Laura Carstensen's assertion that longevity -- yes, how long you will live -- is linked with higher education. According to Carstensen, people with a college education have more control over their lives, enjoy healthier lifestyles, better deal with health problems, live in better neighborhoods with cleaner environments, and have jobs that are not physically taxing or hazardous. How about that!

While College Is Really Expensive, NOT Going to College Is Even More Expensive

Derek Thompson, senior editor at the Atlantic, says that "even though college tuition is famously outpacing median incomes, there is still something more expensive than going to school... NOT going."

He quotes a study from the Hamilton Project that says if you were to "invest $100,000 at age 18 into gold, corporate bonds, U.S. government debt, hot company stocks or four years of college, the best investment is college."

Even Vice President Joe Biden is extolling the virtues of post high school education. He says, "Six out of 10 jobs over the next decade will require either a certificate or a degree beyond high school."

For every year a young person spends in school after high school, his or her income goes up and stays there for life, his or her chances of being employed go up and chances of being unemployed go down.

The Chronicle of Higher Education's Jennifer Gonzales' blew me away with these stats:

  • "In 1960, 60% of the jobs were unskilled jobs (no training or skills were needed). Today, only 15% of the available jobs are unskilled jobs, while 85% of all jobs require some education and/or training and/or a college degree."
  • "The days of workers graduating from high school and working their way from the mailroom to a corner office at a large company are GONE. Today's economy puts a premium on education, training and flexibility."

Finally, over President's Day weekend, Rachel Rampell of the New York Times summed up the case for college with this headline: "It Takes a BA to Find a Job as a File Clerk." Rampell says that more and more a bachelor's degree is a pre-requisite for jobs that don't even require college skills: receptionists, administrative assistants, file clerks, dental hygienists, cargo agents, clerks, claims adjusters and even in-house couriers who deliver mail.

So the next time someone howls out to you that college is too expensive and downright worthless in terms of getting a job, smile and simply pull out a few of the above statistics.

Okay, okay; I concede that for some students vocational training and/or a community college degree is a good choice. Know that people with some college, but no degree, earn 17 percent more than high school graduates.