Is College Degree worth the investment?

Mar 09, 2016

College Degree Still Worth the Investment of Time, Money

It would seem that in today’s economy, there is no such thing as job security. Layoffs, outsourcing, and cutbacks have become commonplace since the Great Recession of 2008, and manufacturing jobs have become fewer and far between.
According to the National Association of Manufacturers, 9 percent of the U.S. workforce holds manufacturing jobs. These are among the only positions where workers have the opportunity to earn decent wages that include benefits without the need for a college degree. However, statistics have supported the fact that manufacturing jobs peaked before 1998, and have been on a downward trajectory since that time.

As of February 5, 2016, the national unemployment rate was 4.9, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. New Mexico currently has the highest unemployment rate, at 6.7 percent, followed by the District of Columbia, at 6.6 percent. Alaska (6.5 percent), Nevada (6.4 percent), Mississippi (6.4 percent), West Virginia (6.3 percent) and Alabama (6.2 percent) also have high rates of unemployment.

Many workers who have lost their jobs have opted to go back to school for more education, or to earn a different degree and completely change their careers. In this new economy, just how valuable is a college degree? Is it still worth the time and money to pursue a higher education?

The Benefits of a Higher Education

With manufacturing jobs dwindling, one of the only ways for U.S. workers to find employment opportunities which offer higher wages and attractive benefits packages is to earn a college degree.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an individual with a bachelor’s degree earns an estimated $57,026 per year, as compared with the $34,197 earned annually by a worker with only a high school diploma. The New York Federal Reserve also estimates that college graduates earn roughly $1 million more during their lifetime than those without a college degree.

The New York Fed report goes on to conclude that while the earnings of a college degree have fluctuated over the years, the wages of those without a college degree have steadily declined.  The report states that “ . . . after climbing impressively between 1980 and 2000, the return to a college degree has held steady for more than a decade at around 15 percent, easily surpassing the threshold for a sound investment.” The driving force behind the ongoing value of a college degree is the fact that wages for those without a college degree have steadily declined over the last decade.

Marketing executives, software applications developers, and registered nurses are the top wage earners in the bachelor’s degree category. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average hourly rate for marketing executives is $57.42. Software applications developers earn roughly $44.66 per hour and registered nurses are in the $30-per-hour range.

Bachelor’s degrees aren’t the only ones with a high return on investment. The average cost of tuition per year for an associate degree program is $2,713 per year, compared with an average cost of $7,605 per year at four-year institutions. Salaries for the most in-demand jobs for associate’s degree holders range between $50,000 and $100,000, according to data from the BLS.

Radiation therapists, who are eligible for employment with only an associate’s degree, can earn an average annual salary of $77,560, according to BLS. The top 10 percent of wage earners in this field make as much as $110,000.
Nuclear technicians also are in high demand, with an associate’s degree the only requirement for obtaining a job in this field. The average annual salary for nuclear technicians is $69,060, with the top 10 percent of wage earners bringing in more than $97,000.

According to figures from the Pew Research Center, high school graduates earn just 62 percent of what their college-graduate counterparts earn. The wage gap has widened considerably since 1965 when high school diploma holders were able to earn 81 percent of what college degree holders earned.
Quality of Life Tied to Higher Education
Higher wages aren’t the only benefit to holding a college degree.

In a 2014 Gallup poll, nearly three in four Americans surveyed said they agree or strongly agree that higher education opens doors to better career opportunities, an improved standard of living and a higher quality of life.

The findings are supported by a separate study from the Pew Research Center, which indicates that among those aged 25 to 32, nearly 22 percent of those with only a high school diploma are living in poverty.  Health ramifications are associated with poverty, with fewer individuals living in poverty having access to quality healthcare and healthier food options.

A March 2012 study published in the American Journal of Public Health discovered that individuals who earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree after age 25 had fewer symptoms of depression and a higher self-rating of health.

In addition to better health, college degree holders also have a higher marketability value. During tough economic times, individuals with college degrees are more likely to find employment than their non-graduate peers. Those who hold college degrees also are more likely to encourage their children to pursue higher education, passing down the value of possessing a college degree to the future generation.

Earning a Degree Easier Than Ever

Attending college and earning a degree has never been easier. Even for those who currently are employed, or who have a family and need to juggle family time with college, earning a degree is still within reach.

The emergence of online degree programs has helped to facilitate the ease of earning a college degree. As of 2012, more than 6.7 million students were taking, at least, one course online, according to the Online Learning Consortium. In a 10-year study the consortium conducted, 62.4 percent of colleges surveyed already were offering complete online degree programs, compared with just half that number 10 years prior.

The study’s findings are supported by the U.S. Department of Education, which indicated that as of the fall 2012 semester; over 21 million students were enrolled in distance education courses at Title IV institutions. Title IV institutions are those which participate in federal student financial assistance programs.

Financial aid also has become easier to obtain, making the entire college enrollment process easier. There was a time when students were dependent on athletic and academic scholarships to help pay for college. Today, financial aid and assistance programs are widely available. Ask for assistance from the college financial aid office in determining which programs are best suited to your needs. Students who wish to obtain federally-funded financial aid must choose a program that is accredited by a reputable accrediting agency.  A complete list of accrediting agencies is available on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

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