Understanding the Value of Education in the Modern Workplace
There have been a number of discussions recently about the value of a college education in a world with spiraling college debt and high unemployment. But while it is certainly true that the cost of obtaining a college degree has never been higher, that is not necessarily a good reason to give up on your dreams of a higher education. In fact, recently published statistics show that a college degree continues to be one of the best investments young people can make.Those statistics reveal that a college graduate can expect to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more throughout their career than an individual whose education stopped at high school. In addition, those college graduates can expect to enjoy much lower levels of unemployment than those who lack a college degree. Tellingly, this statistic holds true even in times of record high unemployment. In fact, statistics published in 2010 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that unemployment for college graduates is less than half that of high school graduates.
How Valuable is a Bachelors Degree?
If you doubt the value of a college education just look at these earnings statistics that show the widening gap between those who hold a college degree and those with only a high school diploma. Although these statistics were compiled in 2008, it is safe to say the discrepancy between college educated and high school educated workers has not diminished since those statistics were published.
Do the Math on a College Education
Over the course of the average workers lifetime, a college graduate will make almost a million dollars more than someone with only a high school diploma.Consider this:
College Graduate - $55,000 X 40 Years = $2,200,000
H.S. Graduate - $32,000 X 40 Years = $1,280,000
Difference = $920,000 over 40 years
Furthermore, this does not even begin to consider the value of benefit packages to the college educated. When you consider health benefits, tuition reimbursement, vacation pay, 401k and more, the math weighs even more heavily for the the degree holding individual.
- For 2008 the average earnings per male worker was $40,000.
- College graduates averaged a full $15,000 more than that average, with earnings of $55,000 per year.
- High school graduates earned an average of just $32,000, a full $8,000 less than average, and $23,000 less than a college graduate.
- Female college graduates earned an average of $45,000, a full $11,000 more than the $34,000 average for all female workers.
- Female high school graduates had average earnings of just $25,000, or $9,000 less than the average for all female workers.
Those same statistics show that the gap between college educated workers and their high school graduate counterparts has been widening steadily, and that it shows no signs of slowing down. The statistics are quite instructive, and they speak to the growing importance of formal education in the workplace, and to the disappearance of the low skilled manufacturing jobs that once kept high school graduates solidly in the middle and upper middle classes.
As recently as 1980, a male high school graduate could expect to earn, on average, $44,200. At that time college graduates did not earn much more, averaging $52,300 in annual earnings. Contrast this with the 2008 figures, which show average earnings of $55,000 for male college graduates, versus just $32,000 for high school graduates. This widening gap is likely to continue into the future, making a formal college education even more important than it is today.
Make the Investment
Of course one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of a college education is the high, and ever increasing, cost of college. While college graduates might earn hundreds of thousands more over their lifetimes, that does not make college loans any less of a burden. In fact, many recent college graduates emerge tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, thereby negating much of the benefits of a college education.
One possible answer is for students to work their way through college, perhaps taking a bit longer to graduate and giving up some of their social lives, but freed from the debt that plagues so many of their peers. Students can also join the military, trading a few years of their lives in service of their country for exceptional benefits and help paying for college.High Paying Jobs Requiring Bachelors Degrees
- Registered Nurse - $62,000
- Software Engineer - $88,000
- Network Engineer- $57,000
- Respiratory Therapist - $51,000
Another course to consider is taking a job right out of high school and using the tuition reimbursement provided by the company to earn that college degree. Even if the company does not pay the full cost of tuition, this can cut down on college expenses considerably.
Attending college as an active employee can have other important benefits as well. For one thing, the powers that be are likely to take notice of workers who are trying to better themselves. That could mean a higher standing in the eyes of your boss, and a better chance at landing a promotion. Going to college while embarking on a full-time career also lets you bring true real world experience to the classroom, something you simply cannot get by moving from high school right into college.
One Final Word
If you are doubting the wisdom of going back to school after you are gainfully employed, just consider one final statistic. Everyone knows that unemployment is a problem, and is expected to remain a serious concern for quite some time. Yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that college graduates consistently have lower levels of unemployment, in both good times and bad.
Back in the 1990s, when overall unemployment was 4% and lower, the unemployment rate for college educated workers was about half that figure, at 2% and even lower in many states. Even in the challenging days of 2009 and 2010, the unemployment rate for those with a college degree has consistently remained at about half of their high school educated counterparts. In December of 2010, when overall unemployment hovered at a staggering 9.8%, college educated workers had an unemployment rate of just 4.6%, less than half the national average. That means college educated workers are likely to not only earn more throughout their lifetimes but are more likely to remain employed as well.