10/22/2012 01:08 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2012

Some Valuable Economic Benefits of Higher Education

Lately, it's become fashionable to question the value of a higher education. After all, if Bill Gates has made millions of dollars without a college degree couldn't our upcoming generation have the same, or a similar level of success? Well, perhaps that approach worked for Bill Gates and maybe even a few other fortunate entrepreneurs, but studies prove again and again that these outcomes are the exception, not the rule. Recent research indicates that the average college graduate makes approximately one million dollars more during the span of his or her career than a person with only a high school education.

According to the U. S. Census Bureau's figures for the year 2008, the average earnings of a full-time working individual with only a high school diploma was approximately $34,200. (Some college = $40,600. Associate's Degree = $44,100.) If you obtain a four-year bachelor's degree, your average salary jumps to $57,000. That's a $22,800 annual improvement over the high school diploma.

Even better news? A percentage of those extra dollars is returned many times over to the same federal, state, and local treasuries that financed those students' education. When our graduates pay taxes on that income at a higher bracket rate -- and on that nicer house and nicer car they buy in the local economy -- they are putting money back into the system. So money spent on higher education is an investment that not only feeds our economy, it rewards taxpayers for a wise investment. And the rewards keep happening for as long as the college educated worker remains employed.

Consider also the contribution of an international student. Each year, students from all over the world come to the United States to receive a college education. Here at McNeese State University, we have approximately 300 international students, and each one spends approximately $10,000 per year. That means that these international students bring $3,000,000 to the economy of Southwest Louisiana each year in tuition alone. But they also eat in local restaurants, shop in local stores, and buy local goods and services. Economically, the effect is exactly the same as the export from the United States of an expensive tangible product. The United States receives tens of thousands of dollars from a purchaser from a foreign country. If you multiply the effect of this across all the colleges and universities in the nation, you might conclude that higher education is doing more for the U.S. trade deficit that almost any other industry.

With facts like these, there can be no denying that higher education carries significant value, not only for the one receiving the degree, but also for all of us who benefit from government services at the local, state and national levels.