'Education Pays' report shows value of college degree

The report was last released in 2007.

Last week, the College Board released “Education Pays,” a report about the importance of a college education and its benefits after graduation.

The report, the first of its kind since 2007, highlights the benefits of obtaining a college degree, stating that people who complete their collegiate studies enjoy a higher average income, lower unemployment rates and higher standards of health, among other benefits.

Representatives of the United States Student Association, a student advocacy group, and the MU Career Center, said they tended to agree with the College Board’s report, but added students could do things to appear more attractive to employers beyond simply obtaining a degree.

Available on the College Board’s website, the report contains statistical data they say show the economic and personal benefits of a college education. The report said college graduates earn on average $16,000 more per year than high school graduates, after tax.

Based on data gathered from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the report also stated the unemployment rate in 2009 for those older than 25 with a degree was 5.1 percent lower than for those with a high school diploma alone.

“Unemployment rates are unusually high for everyone, but twice as high for high school graduates as for college graduates,” College Board spokeswoman Stephanie Coggin said in an e-mail.

Coggin said some of the variations found in the study among people with different levels of education might have been caused by other factors.

“Surely some of the differences we report are caused by income levels,” she said. “However, there is strong statistical evidence that for every issue on which we report, the differences reported exist for people with similar incomes but different levels of education.”

The ongoing recession has made jobs difficult to find, though; one student even sued her former college in 2009 after she was unable to find employment. However, MU Career Services Assistant Laura Peiter said employment would be even harder to find without a college degree.

“I think the job market would be twice as hard without the skills learned in college, for those jobs seeking people with college experience,” she said.

Peiter said a college degree is now a basic requirement for many jobs.

“Many employers look for that baseline: ‘OK, they’ve got the degree,’” she said.

She said academic learning was not the only thing employers will consider when reviewing applicants.

“We work with students to help them understand the importance of experience,” Peiter said.

She said getting an internship or joining a campus organization are ways to gain job experience while still studying in college.

While the poor job market might have made students wary of spending money on a college education when a job may not be waiting after graduation, Coggin said it still makes sense to go get a college education.

“The payoff to a college education continues to increase and is all the more important in a weak economy,” she said.

USSA spokesman Jake Stillwell said a college degree will be more useful as the economy recovers and new jobs are created for skilled workers.

“By 2018, the U.S. is going to have 20 million new jobs for highly skilled workers,” he said. “While it might be immediately more beneficial for somebody to forgo college, the economy is going to pick up and there are going to be jobs.”

“Education Pays” stated the earnings of the average student with a bachelor’s degree would surpass the earnings of those with a high school diploma by age 33, after paying off their student loans.

“Even with that debt, you’re better off than if you don’t have a college degree in general,” Stillwell said. Peiter said not everyone will benefit from a college education.

“If you want to work in an area that doesn’t require a college degree, maybe it’s not worth your investment,” she said.

Peiter said in most cases a college degree would expand one’s employment opportunities, but the importance of a college education is best decided on a situational basis.

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