A risk well worth the reward

New data show that a college degree is far more than just a sound financial investment.

Luis Ruuska

With student loan debt and tuition at record highs, it’s easy to understand why more and more students are carefully weighing the costs and benefits of pursuing higher education.

Some critics argue that students can gain necessary skills for the workforce from third-party assessments or competency-based education, which is a growing division of post-secondary education.

Others argue the labor force is full with recent graduates and that the only jobs are often low-paying and/or unrelated to what students spent years of time, effort and money to study.

Nevertheless, new data from the Pew Research Center prove the benefits of a college degree are more than just financial.

The annual earnings gap between college graduates and high school graduates in 1979 was $9,690. Today, that gap has nearly doubled to $17,500.

Despite the fact that many critics portray college graduates as unemployable, the reality is that the actual unemployment rate for college graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher is only 3.8 percent.

For high school graduates who don’t further their education, the unemployment rate is about three times higher at 12.2 percent.

The report also found that college graduates were more likely to feel satisfied with their job and more confident in their education to move up the career ladder than their high school graduate peers.

So is college still worth it? The numbers speak for themselves, but it’s up to students and critics alike to listen.

After all, it’s so easy to be critical and pessimistic about the value of American higher education today.

It’s harder to imagine the bigger picture of what a college education does for a person, especially when the benefits aren’t tangible until the future but the initial investment is so high.

However, there comes a point when criticism can become destructive and harmful, especially when it’s based upon misinformation.

The misperceptions surrounding the real costs and benefits of a college degree could deter many students from enrolling each year.

One study found that as many as 70 percent of students who decided not to enroll in college did so because of a lack of financial aid and high tuition.

The study suggested that the fear of accruing debt via student loans is one of the most important factors that many students and their families weigh when they opt out of attending college.

While many young people cannot afford a post-secondary education, some may have turned away from college simply because of financial risk, real or perceived. These students don’t understand that the consequences of neglecting a college degree could cost them more in the future than it will in the present.

We can’t combat these misconceptions about the true value of higher education through policy changes that aim to cut college costs alone. Higher education also needs a cultural shift in attitude and perception of the risks.

We need to eliminate the idea that it’s possible to survive without higher education. Not because it isn’t true — it is — but because the next generation needs to know that if they stop their education at the high school level, that’s all they may do: survive.

Instead, we need to let the next generation know that a college education can do far more than help them just survive; it can help them thrive.