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Getting a BA means more work and higher wages

The Bureau of Labor Statistics each year publishes a chart that details the unemployment rate and median weekly earnings by education attainment for those 25 and older. The data for 2107 are below.

Year after year the same story. Each time I look at the new data the question that comes to mind is “how can the data be misinterpreted?”. Seems like the conclusion is crystal clear: the more education attainment the more you work and the more you earn.

And yet we continue with a public conversation that increasingly questions the value of getting a four-year degree or more. The reality is––as this data depict––that a four-year degree is the most reliable path to a middle class or better career. End of story!

Who knows this story better than anyone else? The wealthy.  A new study by Fabian T. Pfeffer (Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Michigan) found that of children born into the top 20 percent wealthiest of American households in the 1980s  60 percent earned a BA. Up from 46 percent for those born into wealthy households in the 1970s. Everyone else (the bottom 80 percent)? BA attainment rates of 22 percent for those born in the 1980s up from 19 percent in the 1970s. So what was already a substantial college attainment gap between wealthy households and eveyone else has grown substantially in just a decade. Not good news if you care about equal opportunity for all kids.

So when the wealthy tell you that you and/or your kids are better off not pursuing a four-year degree remember that, by and large, they are doing the opposite with their children.

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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.

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