As tuition costs continue to rise to levels higher than ever before, many are asking, is a college education worth the financial investment? What exactly is the value of a college education? The answers to these questions lie in the economic, societal, and personal benefits that a college education enables. The financial burden of debts and lost potential wages carried by many who choose to pursue post-secondary studies is certainly present. However, evidence indicates that the long-term benefits of completing college far outweigh the costs, and these benefits extend past the individual to their families and society at large.
College education is an investment that will never depreciate. Once attained, a college degree will enable individual to earn more in the long run. In fact, the rate of return on investment in higher education is substantial enough to warrant the financial burden often associated with the pursuit of a college degree. On the whole, college graduates earn more than those with only a high school diploma. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the median annual in come in 2000 of male high school graduates working full-time and year round was $34,303 and $24,970 for female-full-time workers. However, the average incomes in 2000 for males with a bachelor degree were $56,334 and $40,415 for females (2003). This demonstrates the drastic disparity in earnings between individuals with college educations and those with only high school diplomas. Those with high school diplomas face extreme hardship when trying to obtain a solid career. Their rate of pay is significantly lower. Their stress levels are higher because they have to work twice as hard as someone who has attained a college education.
The U.S. census Bureau has determined that each successively higher education level attained is associated with an increase in earnings. Over an adult’s working life, high school graduates earn an average of $1.2 million, those with associate degrees earn approximately $1.6 million, and individuals with bachelor’s degrees earn about $2.1 million (2000). When the necessary financial burden of pursuing higher education is put in comparison to the differences in wages related to level of education outlined above, the true economic value of college education is certainly put into perspective. Moreover, higher learning leads to higher earning. Although one ends up paying off their college education throughout their lives, they will realize that this debt they have incurred is very worth it compared to the amount of work time they would putting in if they had only received their high school diploma.
Beyond increased income potential, graduates from college educations also experience several other benefits compared to those with only high school diplomas. These benefits include longer life spans, better access to health care, better dietary and health practices, greater economic stability and security, and less dependency on government assistance. College education has also been linked to more continuing education, greater participation in leisure and artistic activities and more book purchases. Those with college educations tend to have more time to enjoy life. They have the financial means to enjoy more activities. Students with college degrees understand the importance of reading and learning and will tend to continue with this activity once they receive their degree. College degrees give individuals a stronger sense of self esteem. Furthermore, college graduates have been found to have higher voting rates, greater knowledge of government, more volunteer work, and greater demonstrated community service and leadership. The reason for these trends can be contributed to a sense of pride and a need to give back to the community that helped them become educated.
Past research has shown that college graduates enjoy higher levels of saving, increased mobility (both personal and professional), improved quality of life for their offspring, and better consumer decision-making (Hansen, 2003, p3). Additional non-monetary personal benefits of higher education include the tendency for post-secondary students to become more open-minded, more cultured, more rational, more consistent, and less authoritarian, and these benefits are passed along to succeeding generations. College attendance has also been shown to enhance knowledge of world affairs, decrease prejudice, and enhance social status. While one attends college they are given the opportunity to be introduced to a variety of backgrounds and values. This helps one become more well rounded. Overall, the evidence provided by research indicates the multitude of personal benefits for those that pursue college education.
Higher education also has social benefits that extend beyond the individual to their family and society at large. Studies have consistently demonstrated a link between college education, cultural and family values, and economic growth. Women with higher education have been found to spend more time with their children and use this time to better prepare their children for the future. Although during their college careers it may seems as though parents are not as involved with their children, after education has been achieved the sense of family is far stronger than that of a non educated individual. Children of college-educated individuals have been found to be healthier, perform better academically, and are more likely to attend college themselves than children of those with less education. Children observe how their parents have grown and then in turn want to follow in their parents foot steps. Parents attending college tend to be more organized and have more time management skills which they tend to bring into their family. This helps to maintain a structured family for their children. Therefore, a college education has immense value for the families of individuals who pursue degrees.
Since higher education is linked to increased wages, it is also linked to increased disposable income. The public benefits of college graduation include increased tax revenues, greater productivity in the workplace, increased consumption of products and activities, increased flexibility in the workplace, and as mentioned before, decreased reliance on government financial support. Those with college educations tend to not need the assistance of the government because they are able to fund their lives with a much higher level of income due to the employment they will gain from their education. Those with college educations tend to go into careers which they are interested in, not just forced to gain employment that will pay the bills. In obtaining careers they are interested in, they become more productive and interested in the position they have taken on. This leads to less time off of work. Companies become stronger when their workforce spends more time on the job. The economy increases with more production at work, which in turn helps our economy become stronger over time. Therefore, higher education leads to better individual financial situations and an improved economy.
Furthermore, there is increased value in not only attending college, but completing a degree. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of students leave four-year colleges each year without graduating. These individuals end up earning less than graduates because they receive fewer years of education. Students realize later in life that they should have completed their degree. More and more adults are going back to finish the degrees they had not completed. There are a variety of colleges to choose from these days, including the online environment. They also tend to earn less than individuals from two-year colleges who have the same number of years of education. Interestingly, it has been found that graduates of a two-year college show approximately the same gains in tested cognitive skills for each year of college attendance as four-year college students (Hansen, 2003, p6). Also, students attending four-year programs usually pay more in tuition and carry more debt than students in two-year programs. Therefore, high school students who are of modest ability or are somewhat lacking in motivation may be better off attending a two-year program and completing it than not completing a four-year program. Additionally, of course, these students would be better off attending any college than none at all.
Historically, institutions of higher learning have been the most optimum venues for cultivating social change. Students throughout the world have stood up against inequality and injustice and have made a difference. Pursing a college education exposes individuals to people, ideas and movements they may never have encountered otherwise. Beyond the benefits discussed earlier, college also provides opportunity to make a difference in the world through participation in different awareness groups and voluntary organizations. Although attending an online college may not give students the wide variety of organizations to become involved in, students are likely to attend organizations in their communities in order to fulfill the need to make a difference in the community and world they live in.
Although the evidence thus far has pointed to the benefits provided by higher education, some argue that the population at large is becoming over educated, and that degrees are now a dime a dozen. One would rather become over educated then under educated in our society. A survey conducted in 2003 found that university and college graduates feel over-educated and underemployed. Workers are carrying an abundance of education and work skills that are not being utilized by the labor market. The survey, carried out by the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education , reports that about half of Ontario workers with post-secondary education say they have skills that they would like to use, but which their jobs don’t require (2002). The survey also reports 62 per cent who think, contrary to evidence, that university graduates are just as likely to be unemployed as high school graduates (2002). According to most research, the findings of this survey carry little weight, and unemployment rates among college graduates are substantially lower than unemployment rates among those with only a high school education.
The experience of college opens the mind and the senses to new learning experiences and social encounters. Students are brought together with a variety of backgrounds and social experiences from other students they interact with. The experience of a college education is brought out in our families. Our children learn the importance of a college education and this continues to be passed down through our generations. College students are encouraged to think critically and analyze problems and situations from different perspectives and angles. Students are taught to not just assume anything, but to investigate information on their own to find out facts. A college education broadens horizons and opens up opportunities for increased employability and earning potential, and acts as a foundation for a productive life. A college education builds stronger self esteem in individuals. The value of a college education is evident in the personal, economical, and societal benefits experienced due to higher learning.
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2003) Digest of Education Statistics: Retrieved September 22, 2003, from http://nces.gov
Profile of Selected Economic Characteristics. (2000). Census 2000 Summary File. Retrieved September 19, 2004, from www.http://factfinder.census.gov/
Hansen, K. (2003). What Good is a College Education Anyway? Retrieved September 18, 2004, from http://www.quintcareers.com/college_education_value.html
Livingstone, D. W., Hart, D. , and Davie, L.E., (2002) Public Attitudes Towards Education in Ontario, OISE/UT Survery. Retrieved September 19, 2004 from http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/OISE-Survey/2002.html