In last month’s business section, the Miami Herald published an article in which the author questioned whether a college degree was worth the financial investment.
The premise that “college is not worth it” is based on the notion that one’s return on such an investment is the only reason that a person should go to college. In actuality, the value of a college degree goes far beyond its total cost. Indeed, a college degree — and the experience of earning one’s degree — benefits its recipient for a lifetime, and a college education is a benefit for the common good of any community.
A college degree is always an investment worth making.
In the years a student spends working to obtain a degree, he or she develops as a person in ways that cannot be measured by the “investment” of going to college. Whether through group projects with fellow students, an internship with a company, or individual research on behalf of a professor, the college experience educates the whole individual, and helps to develop the person’s values.
It is during one’s college years that one develops a sense of self, a world view, an appreciation for the dignity of people, and an enthusiasm for the arts. Also, because of various internship and volunteer opportunities during college, the college graduate has gained a deeper understanding of the importance of civic engagement.
While it has been well documented that our current economy has been no friend to recent college graduates, the numbers still reveal that the prospects remain brighter for those who have earned their college degrees.
According to a 2012 study by The Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., young high school graduates in 2011 on average earned an hourly wage of $9.45, resulting in an annual income of about $19,700 for a full-time, full-year worker. In contrast, young college graduates collected an average hourly wage of $16.81, which translates into an annual income of about $35,000 for a full-time, full-year worker.
In a 2012 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis, the numbers further show that those with at least a bachelor’s degree earn more annually on average ($53,726) than high school graduates ($32,861). In turn, people who have obtained their bachelor’s degrees earn over $2 million in their lifetimes — or 74 percent more than those with just a high school diploma, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
Yes, the college graduate may be underemployed in the first years out of college — that’s a reality today. The annual salaries will eventually improve for them, though, and they will create a future that’s better and brighter than that of the high school graduate. When that college graduate settles down and starts a family, the higher level of education will have a positive effect, as studies have shown that the parents’ educational level can predict a child’s success as an adult.
College graduates’ impact on the community is greater, too, because the college experience develops and challenges the students within a competitive environment, and prepares them, once out in the workforce, to design more efficient products, to expand and develop businesses, and to create more job opportunities.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics noted last month that the unemployment rate for those with at least a bachelor’s degree is under four percent, while the rate is nearly twice that number for those with only a high school diploma. It would be easy to say that a college degree is worth it based on this statistic alone.
However, there are so many variables that cannot be computed. These variables are the lessons and experiences one gains while going to college that will always make the college degree worth every penny.
Msgr. Franklyn M. Casale is the president of St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens.