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3 Reasons a College Degree is Worth More Than Politicians Say

Posted on Wednesday November 21, 2012 by Michael Keathley

A recent blog post highlighted on Teachers Speak Up! by Steve Berlin of the National Association of State Boards of Education, ”US Schools Do Better Than Politicians Say,” explained that the average U.S. citizen believes schools are not the miserable failures that politicians would have us believe; Berlin is helping to get the word out to the public (01 November, 2012). His basic point is that contrary to the political rhetoric, education in the United States is not failing.

Reading this reminded me of comments such as that of one-time presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum, who earlier this year created controversy with his remarks to the effect that a college degree isn’t worth it or necessary; rather, it produces snobs who are “indoctrinated” by liberal arts professors (25 February, 2012).

Sadly, there are potential students who would benefit from furthering their education, but they choose not to enroll because of comments by some of our leaders that a degree is not of value. These individuals also may be short-changing their hopes for a brighter future with a higher standard of living for their families. This should not occur. Instead, those who desire a college education should be encouraged to pursue one by everyone, including our politicians.

Therefore, to counter these political naysayers, here are three reasons why a college degree is worth more than politicians say.

Historical Data

The first determiner of value when it comes to earning a college degree is believed to be money. Most people expect a degree to translate into gainful employment, a great job with a large income. While there are certainly some variables, such as a graduate’s work ethic, the reality is that historically, the higher the degree earned, the more economic benefits and opportunities there are.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES),

    “In 2010, the median of earnings for young adults with a bachelor’s degree was $45,000, while the median was $21,000 for those without a high school diploma or its equivalent, $29,900 for those with a high school diploma or its equivalent, and $37,000 for those with an associate’s degree. In other words, young adults with a bachelor’s degree earned more than twice as much as those without a high school diploma or its equivalent in 2010 (i.e., 114 percent more), 50 percent more than young adult High school completers, and 22 percent more than young adults with an associate’s degree. In 2010, the median of earnings for young adults with a master’s degree or higher was $54,700, some 21 percent more than the median for young adults with a bachelor’s degree. (2012)

That those with degrees averaged higher salaries held true from at least 1990-2010. However, there’s more to the statistics in support of a college degree.

A recent study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that the unemployment rate for graduates with a bachelor’s degree is 4.5% (for more recent graduates this goes up to 6.8%), but the rate for high school graduates is 24%. Furthermore, the underemployment rate for college graduates in May of 2012 was 8.4% while for high school only graduates it was 17.3%. Even more frightening is that there were 200,000 new jobs added for college graduates during the recession and another two million during the recovery. In fact, the report states that: “More than half of the jobs created in the recovery have gone to workers with a bachelor’s degree or better, even though these highly educated workers make up just a little more than a third of the labor force.” Meanwhile, almost 80% of jobs lost were those of workers without college degrees (15 August, 2012).

Certainly these are averages and there are exceptions, but overall, the odds of finding and maintaining gainful employment as a college graduate are much better than for those with only a high school diploma.

More Than Money

However, there is something significant often missed by the political naysayers who claim a college degree isn’t worth the investment. As I wrote last summer, a college degree is not all about the money (08 June, 2012). For most college students, it’s less about the quantity of income and more about the quality of life.

In fact, a post earlier this year by Utah’s Lt. Governor Greg Bell concluded that students are not choosing the most lucrative professions when it comes to college majors; rather, they are opting for less financially rewarding careers. For example, the most popular choice of business management is the 59th highest paying career in his state (10 May, 2012). Further insight is provided in a study by Jeri Mullins Beggs, John H. Bantham, and Steven Taylor, “Distinguishing the Factors Influencing College Students’ Choice of Major” (June 2008), which concludes that students seek to match their personal skills, interests, and other intrinsic factors over money when it comes time to choosing a college major. Students want to have long, happy, fulfilling futures that are not solely defined by dollars.

Certainly, students who make this connection between who they are and what degree they earn are doing something that is “worth it.” All one has to do is dig a bit beneath the political hype to see that college graduates are also showing the value of their degrees in the contributions they make to our society during and after degree completion. There is also a host of educators leading in this by example.

Paying It Forward

That students are doing something of value in college is indicated by what many choose to do with their education during and after graduation. Most are not sitting idly about having been “indoctrinated” by a liberal professor. Instead, they are paying it forward by establishing programs that feed the hungry, improving the health and fitness of Americans, or creating scholarships that allow those in poverty to pursue higher education (15 June, 2012).

While faculty receive the brunt of the criticism from those who say a college degree isn’t valuable, consider who inspired these students and that the educators themselves continually show the value of their education by utilizing their talents to the betterment of our society in the classroom and beyond. Certainly, working to prevent diseases or assist those who are suffering are not worthless activities nor are the degrees earned by these educators so that they could make such contributions (31 January, 2012).

Let the naysayers claim that a college degree isn’t worth obtaining if they choose to do so. However, given the three reasons above, you be different. While they talk and try to indoctrinate others into their jaded outlook, go earn a valuable degree.

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