The question ‘Is College Worth It?’ has really and truly been put to bed. The Pew Research Center Study this year on higher education has found that on average a bachelor’s degree in the US will earn a graduate $500,000 on top of the average industrial wage over the course of a 40 year career, taking into account student debt. This difference is roughly double what it was two decades ago.
A college graduate earns 98% more per hour than someone who never went to college. 53% of college grads are satisfied with their jobs compared to 37% of non-grads. 22% of those who never go to college end up in poverty, compared to 5.8% of those with a bachelor’s degree. These numbers don’t include those who went on to study a masters or PhD.
The question of whether or not college is worth it also misses the main issue of economic mobility. In the past it was possible to get good working class jobs which paid wages able to pull large groups up into the middle class. With low skill jobs moving to developing countries and many career paths blocked to those without a college degree there is a consensus that having a degree is the equivalent to having a high school diploma three decades ago – it’s a basic requirement to break into the middle class.
According to the White House Report on Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students, in 1970, roughly 75% of the middle class had a high school diploma or less. By 2007, this share had declined to just 39%. Without a college degree, children born in the bottom fifth of the income distribution have a 5% chance of making it to the top fifth, and a 55% of chance of making out of the bottom fifth. With a college degree, the chances of making it to the top increase to 19%, and chances of making it out of the bottom increase to 84%.
A degree has become more necessary than ever. The question we should be asking is not whether college is worth it. The question is whether or not college is really preparing graduates for the work environment.