Office of Planning and Budgeting

Recent Reports Highlight Value of College Education

How can we tell if college is worth the cost? The economic crisis has some questioning the cost-benefit ratio for post-secondary education, claiming that higher education may be a bubble on the verge of bursting, and that the payoff might not be worth the cost. However, two in-depth reports released this summer presented ample evidence to counter these doubts.

The College Board’s Education Pays 2010: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society highlights the demonstrated direct and indirect benefits of post-secondary education. Their analysis finds that, in 2008, median annual earnings for bachelor’s degree recipients was almost $22,000 per year more than those of high school graduates, that college graduates were more likely to have health and retirement benefits, and that the unemployment rate for college graduates was less than half the rate of high school graduates in 2009. Median earnings for those with professional and doctoral degrees were even higher, with the former earning $58,000 per year more than high school graduates in 2008, and the latter earning $66,000 more.

In addition to monetary benefits, college graduates, even after controlling for personal characteristics, are more satisfied with their jobs, healthier, and more involved citizens and parents.

So, overwhelming evidence proves college worthwhile, but will these wage and lifestyle premiums continue into the future? In June, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce released a report, Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018, that analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data to project job growth and educational requirements into the future. These economists determined that, by 2018, 63% of available jobs will require at least some college education, and that, at current production rates, the post-secondary system will have produced 3 million fewer college graduates than demanded by the labor market in 2018.

The Center’s state level analysis predicted that between 2008 and 2018, over 1 million new and replacement jobs will open up in Washington, comprising:

  • 94,000 openings for high school dropouts
  • 257,000 openings for high school graduates
  • 677,000 openings for those with some post-secondary training

Taken together, these data-driven reports clearly demonstrate that the benefits of higher education for both the individual and society are tremendous. However, they also demonstrate that access and affordability remain very real concerns that the citizens, government, and institutions must continue to address.

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