It’s no secret that the cost of a college education is bound to generate “sticker shock.” Student debt continues to mount and the United States has fallen to 11th place worldwide in regard to post-secondary education attainment. Against this backdrop, the catchphrase that “college is not for everyone” often elicits nods of agreement, reflecting the sentiment that it’s foolhardy to encourage so many of our young people to pursue a Bachelor’s degree.
Yet despite its high costs, a 4-year college degree still delivers enormous economic benefits. Studies repeatedly demonstrate that those who attain a Bachelor’s degree have substantially lower rates of unemployment over those who do not.
Moreover, not only are 4-year college grads more likely to hold a job, their career earning potential is also much greater. A recent report by a leading compensation analysis firm identified 128 colleges and universities whose graduates on average earned at least $500,000 more than high school grads over a 20-year period even after the cost of tuition was taken into account. What’s more, many of the high performers on the list outpaced the Ivy League schools and other “elite” institutions. For example, Stevens Institute of Technology outranked both the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard; NJIT outperformed Columbia. Rutgers, which was ranked 89th nationally, outdid Northwestern.
At the same time, many colleges continue to be powerful engines of social mobility. At NJIT, for example, over 30 percent of students from families at the bottom fifth of the income distribution scale advanced at least two income quintiles as graduates; at Rutgers that figure was 22 percent. Sadly, these gains are threatened by cuts in support for higher education over the past decade. In New Jersey, per-student funding for higher education has declined 23 percent since 2008. The average reduction for the country as a whole across the nation is 18 percent.
Beyond the financial considerations, earning a 4-year degree produces a range of social and individual benefits. Thomas Jefferson advised us that the strength of our democracy depends on a well-educated citizenry. More than ever, a Bachelor’s degree is the best gateway to full participation in an increasingly complex and interdependent global economy and society.
Of course, this is not to suggest that merely attaining a Bachelor’s degree from any institution is a panacea. Not all degrees will deliver the same benefits. In addition, the benefits also vary greatly from institution to institution. Students need support to explore career options and college choices while critically evaluating the costs and benefits.
But for families, schools, and our country, the evidence should be clear: the task at hand is to prepare more – not fewer – of our students to pursue and earn a Bachelor’s Degree after high school. Is college for everyone? Perhaps not everybody but it’s still the best option for most.
Louis Moore is the Superintendent of Schools for Red Bank Regional High School his email is firstname.lastname@example.org
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