College is the best mobility strategy

Don’t listen to the naysayers, writes Andrew Rotherham in Time: Actually, College Is Very Much Worth It.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, the median weekly earnings for someone with some college but no degree were $712, compared to $1038 for a college graduate. That’s almost $17,000 over the course of a year and there is an even bigger divide for those with less education. College graduates are also more likely to be in jobs with better benefits, further widening the divide. Meanwhile, in 2010, the unemployment rate was 9.2 percent for those with only some college and more than 10 percent for those with just a high school degree, but it was 5.4 percent for college graduates. The economic gaps between college completers and those with less education are getting larger, too.

College “is the most effective social mobility strategy we have,” he argues.  Only 14 percent of Americans from the bottom fifth of parental income reach the top two-fifths — unless they complete college, a Brookings study found. Forty-one percent of graduates make it to the top two-fifths.  

Education gives you choices. Assuming you don’t pile up mountains of debt that constrain your career options (and that outcome is avoidable) or go to a school where just fogging a mirror is good enough to get a diploma, there are not a lot of downsides to going to college.

The economic payoffs depend a great deal on the student’s abilities and interests: The A student with a yen for engineering has a strong chance of earning a marketable degree and paying off reasonable college debts; the C student probably won’t complete even a fog-the-mirror degree, though a vocational certificate could be achievable at reasonable cost.  The B student with an interest in religious studies, art, Latin American Studies, psychology or social work needs to be realistic about the job market before taking on student loans.

POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON May 31, 2011

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While I am a big proponent of higher education, we can’t assume that it is for everyone. High school students need to determine if the economics are right for them (total cost, grants, loans and potential income) plus they need to look at themselves. It is a lot of money to spend if you aren’t going to graduate in four to six years. The additional income benefit won’t be available but the debt will be there. I think every student needs to look closely and introspectively about what they want out of school, as well as the economics of the degree. Only then can the best decision (and fit) be made.

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