A College Education Continues to Pay Major Dividend – Horowitz
It is graduation season, complete with caps and gowns, proud parents, beaming graduates embarking on new adventures, and even the commencement speeches. This year people ranging from President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden of New Zealand and New Yorker Editor David Remnick — as well as Judge Judy, Tim Tebow and Taylor Swift will all struggle to say something new or at least mildly compelling.
Roughly 4 million people will graduate from college this year—most of them in this prime month for commencements. They are graduating against the backdrop of increasing doubts among some about the value of a college education. There has been a significant drop in the percentage of Americans who believe that colleges and universities are having a positive impact on our country and in a related measure of confidence in these institutions over the past 10 years or so, according to a series of national polls In 2019, for example, only 50% of Americans said that colleges and universities are having a positive impact on “the way things are going in our country these days,” as compared to 62% of Americans who said that colleges and universities had a positive impact in 2012, according to Pew Research Center.
The drop in this measure and in confidence is mainly a result of Republicans losing faith in higher education. Only 1-out-of 3 Republicans and Republican-leaners say that colleges and universities have a positive impact on the nation, while 2-out-of-3 Democrats and Democratic-leaners say colleges and universities have a positive impact, according to Pew.
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There is certainly much to improve in higher education, beginning with making college more affordable, which would provide increased access and prevent our young people from beginning their adult lives with too much debt. Contrary to widespread impressions, however, a college degree today pays greater financial dividends than ever before. Young workers–those between the ages of 22 to 27– with a college degree earned $22,000 more annually than their counterparts with a high school degree, in 2021 reported the New York Federal Reserve Bank. This is the widest pay gap since the New York Fed began charting this statistic in 1990. Median earnings over the course of a lifetime for college graduates exceed high school graduates by more than a million dollars.
More to the point, college graduates themselves find their college experience broadly valuable. “Majorities of graduates said their college education was extremely or very useful when it came to helping them grow personally and intellectually (79%), opening doors to job opportunities (70%) and developing specific skills and knowledge that could be used in the workplace (65%),” according to an October 2021 Pew Research Center poll.
Graduation from college remains something to celebrate—for the graduates themselves, their families, and for the whole American community In this month of commencements, let’s do so.