The increasing value of a college degree

There is growing chorus of policy makers and pundits questioning the value of a college degree. In their telling we have too many, not too few, college graduates. Don’t believe it!

A new study, The College Advantage: Weathering the Economic Storm, from the the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, provides the newest compelling data that those with a college degree do better economically. And that the advantage is growing, not declining. The report is terrific. Worth reading.

For those who want a quick overview of the findings check out this summary New York Time article.

The study looks at job growth by education attainment since the start of the Great Recession. As the report’s Introduction states:

The Great Recession was the longest recession  since World War II and recovery from it has been slow. By early 2012, only about half, 47 percent, of the jobs lost during the recession had been re-gained. Job creation is still insufficient to move the unemployment rate below 8 percent.

The recession hit those with less schooling disproportionately hard—nearly four out of five jobs lost were held by those with no formal education beyond high school. At the other end of the spectrum, workers who had completed a four-year college degree or higher were largely protected against job losses during the recession and some high-education fields even had job gains. The job recovery has only increased the divide between the less-educated and more-educated: More than half of the employment increases have gone to workers with a Bachelor’s degree or better, the rest of the gains to those with some college education or an Associate’s degree. Even in the recovery, workers with only a high school degree or less have continued to lose jobs.

The specific findings:

  • Those with a high school degree or less lost 5.6 million jobs in the Great Recession and lost another 230,000 in the recovery (from January 2010 to February 2012). For the entire period (December 2007 to February 2012) those with a high school diploma or less have seen employment decline 10%.
  • Those with some college or an associates degree lost 1.75 million jobs in the Great Recession and gained 1.6 million in the recovery. For the entire period those with some college or an associates degree have seen employment hold steady.
  • Those with a bachelors degree or more gained 187,000 jobs in the Great Recession and gained 2.0 million jobs in the recovery. For the entire period those with a bachelors degree or have seen employment gains of 5%.

So much for the value of a college degree is declining! The reality is we are almost certainly entering an era of labor shortages in skilled occupations: both technical and professional. Those with college degrees are today, as the data above demonstrates, and almost certainly tomorrow will be in a much better position to compete for employment and higher wages.

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.