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It's college acceptance season, the time of year when high school seniors await thick envelopes inviting them into the college experience.  So, it is timely that the Urban Institute released a report of findings from a studythat asked about the potential benefits of obtaining a college degree.  The study, which focuses primarily on earnings potential, reinforces some of what we already know: those with bachelor's degrees tend to earn more than high school graduates and tend to have lower rates of unemployment.  The value of the college degree has been under fire recently, particularly in light of the rising cost of college (Find out the cost of colleges by name here).  
The more interesting part of the study is the nuances it captures.

The study makes a good point about the danger in using data only of new college grads over the years of the great recession.  They faced some of the highest costs of college to data and the worst unemployment rate, so the fact that many of them are still unemployed is not necessarily indicative of the college degree but of the economic situation.  Further, the report recognizes that they cannot account for people who simply never enrolled.  For some students, college can have a bigger impact on their opportunities than for others:

"If all potential students have meaningful available options and are making choices based on their aspirations and on good information about their own opportunities, those who do not enroll may be those who would benefit least from obtaining a bachelor’s degree.7 On the other hand, if students face large financial barriers, if they come from environments that do not create the expectation that
they will go to college or provide support for that choice, or if they are unable to navigate the complex processes required, it is likely that students are forgoing significant benefits."
College has its biggest impact, in terms of economic mobility, for thepoorand middle class.  So, the value of a college degree is not equal of all, again speaking purely in terms of economics.  (There are, of course, other benefits from the college experience that may be more difficult to quantify, but that is for a different post.)  

All in all, many would like a report on the value of college to provide a black and white answer for whether college is worth the money.  But, as this report highlights, a college degree means different things for individuals, and although, a college degree is likely to pay off, there are no guarantees.  

"Even after accounting for paying higher taxes (and for paying for college), postsecondary education pays off for most people. Yet there is considerable variation in outcomes and not every college graduate earns more than every high school graduate."
So, whether college is of value may be more of a personal choice than policy makers might like it to be.  
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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (0+ / 0-)

    ------ Enjoying the gift of an ordinary day

    by DocRunning on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 12:34:13 PM PST

  •  trashing specific majors (Art HIstory) aside, (0+ / 0-)

    it is always about class and status and not about taking courses and getting degrees but gaining knowledge which are not identical

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013 (@eState4Column5).

    by annieli on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 12:42:15 PM PST

    •  Some students just join a fraternity or a sorority (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      annieli

      and then drop out. I've tutored some high school kids with little academic ability and large family incomes, and that was the strategy: pledge and join XYZ Greek organization at Big Name University -- where everyone in the family has been a member since time began -- and then leave at the end of the year, before there's a serious academic reckoning. The whole point of going to college is to "make contacts." What other reason could there possibly be?

      At least George W. got a degree at Yale. By the standards of some rich families, he is a high achiever.

  •  Value is major-and-school-dependent (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG

    An engineering degree at Ye Olde College of Awesomeness is a huge financial boon.

    An art history degree from Podunk College of Beer and Chick-laying isn't.

    Can't say as I'm particularly enthusiastic about the decline in the value of "abstract" or "artsy" degrees, as it devalues education to something valuable only if it gets us more money, but I'm a realist here.

    TX-17 (Bill Flores-R), TX Sen-14 (Kirk Watson-D), TX HD-50 (Celia Israel-D)

    by Le Champignon on Tue Feb 25, 2014 at 01:29:40 PM PST

    •  Value is also student dependent... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      noelcor

      Way too many kids are following the meme that you need to go to college after high school that simply aren't academically or motivationally prepared. They need to be guided to community colleges to remediate and prepare themselves. If they can establish a track record there, then they should be able to move on to a college or university. We really need to clean up the mess of secondary schooling in this country. Look at the vast number of public and private schools that graduate less than 50% of any entering freshman class and frequently lose over 40% of the freshman class the first year. This is a terrible waste of both institutional and taxpayer money - and also a big waste of college professors' time.

      Sociology, history, art history, and English departments are vital resources of any academic institution, but students who pursue those majors need to have a plan of action of what they hope to accomplish with their degrees after they graduate. The jobs just aren't there in most cases. Psychology is frequently one of the top majors at many institutions but an undergrad degree in that area doesn't get you much except college debt. Psychology can be a lucrative and rewarding field, but you need to plan on at least a masters in that area to have a good chance at a profession in that area.

      I know English degrees get trashed a lot, but I have to say that any institution that allows a student to go $50 - 100K into debt for an English or political science degree should be sued for malfeasance. That is simply ludicrous!

    •  I have to counsel kids for college occasionally (0+ / 0-)

      And I always tell them that the best degree is the one they finish in the shortest time with the highest honors and the smallest debt possible. In the U.S. system of employment, being a high school graduate doesn't get you far, but an honors degree earned with a scholarship/grant from a small school can be better than a debt-laden degree from a big-name school.

      Of course, if you major in Classics or Art History, you probably will not find much employment in your field, but if you don't have a huge debt to pay off, you'll be much freer to experiment with your life and find a slot where you fit.

      I also suggest that if you think you have to give away your time to gain some experience, skip the coffee-serving internships in places where nobody remembers your name, and do some volunteer work. Choose a project in your field, something that you can point to as an accomplishment.

      Finally, if you only have money for Junior College, get that A.A. degree or one of those specialist certificates and start from there. That may be all you need.

      The worst scenario possible is to rack up the debt for tuition at a big-name college, and end up with no degree at all to show for it.

  •  Art or engineering? (0+ / 0-)

    These comments suggest another debate - degree choice.  Of course, we all know that an engineering degree is likely to lead to higher pay and more stable employment than an art degree, but shouldn't there be some opportunity for students to value learning over money?  As Le Champignon states, the degrees don't pay the same.  The problem is bigger than just the cost of college.  It is also about the large disparity in incomes.

    ------ Enjoying the gift of an ordinary day

    by DocRunning on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 05:16:17 AM PST

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