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There is much debate in the media and within higher education about the value of a college degree. Research tells us a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree can positively impact your career, but some still question if the benefits outweigh the ever-increasing cost.
The U.S. is more educated than ever. In the 1930s, just 15% of American high school students went on to higher education, and most of them were from upper-income families. However, U.S. college enrollment has grown considerably since 1955,* including a 21% jump between 1994 and 2004 and an increase of 17% from 2004 to 2014.†
For those considering going back to school to complete a degree or to improve their career opportunities through higher education, research indicates there are advantages to earning a college degree:
College graduates are in demand. Today, a college degree matters more than ever as a result of an increasingly competitive global economy. Consider the fact that workers with postsecondary education held only 28% of jobs in 1973; by comparison, they held 59% of jobs in 2007. By 2020, 65% of all jobs in the economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school.‡ That includes about 90% of the jobs in four of the five fastest-growing occupational clusters: healthcare professional and technical occupations, STEM occupations, community services and arts occupations, and education occupations. However, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce,§ America will need 22 million new workers with college degrees by 2018—and will fall short of that number by at least 3 million postsecondary degrees.
It’s worth the investment. The average cost of attending a 4-year private university was nearly $42,500 per year in 2015—triple the price tag in 1990 and the equivalent, after taxes are taken out, of almost a year’s median household income.** However, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, those with a bachelor’s degree enjoy a median income twice that of those with only a high school diploma.†† Americans with 4-year college degrees made 98% more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a college degree. That’s up from 89% 5 years earlier, 85% a decade earlier, and 64% in the early 1980s.‡‡
Benefits extend beyond salary. The benefits of earning a degree—whether it’s from a traditional campus-based university or via online education—include so much more than employability and compensation. A study by the University of Maine and the Lumina Foundation found that Americans with bachelor’s degrees live healthier lives compared with Americans who graduated high school only. For example, the likelihood of having health insurance through employment is 47% higher and the likelihood of reporting health to be very good or excellent is 44% greater. In addition, the study found the likelihood of being a regular smoker is 3.9 times lower and the incidence of obesity and heavy drinking are significantly lower. Also, the likelihood of exercising, having a healthy diet, wearing seat belts, and seeking preventive medical care are significantly higher.§§A college degree can help improve the quality of life and life expectancy rates for graduates and their families.
College graduates are empowered to impact society via social change. While attending college, you are exposed to different perspectives and cultures. Nowhere is this truer than at online universities. Online classes—regardless of the area of study—are global classrooms where students from all over the world can join together to advance their education. In the United States, those who earn a college degree are also 2.3 times more likely to volunteer, are twice as likely to work in the nonprofit sector, and contribute 3.4 times more toward charities than Americans with only a high school diploma. Involvement in the community is significantly greater, as is participation in school, service, civic, and religious organizations.§§
Don’t let the cost of a college degree discourage you from continuing your quest for higher education. Instead, consider the difference a college degree from an accredited university can make for you and your family.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering online bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs with a mission to prepare its students to become scholar-practitioners so they can effect positive social change. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
*The United States Census Bureau, Figure A-1. Distribution of School Enrollment of the U.S. Population 3 Years and Older, by Level, 1955 to 2015, on the internet at www.census.gov/hhes/school/data/cps/historical/FigureA-1_2015.pdf.
†The National Center for Education Statistics, Fast Facts, on the internet at nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=98.
‡A. P. Carnevale, N. Smith, J. Strohl, Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020, Executive Summary, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, on the internet at cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Recovery2020.ES_.Web_.pdf.
§A. P. Carnevale, N. Smith, J. Strohl, Help Wanted: Projecting Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, on the internet at cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/fullreport.pdf.
**J. Barrett, What’s the Value of a College Education? It Depends, CNBC, on the internet at www.cnbc.com/2015/06/19/is-a-college-degree-overvalued.html.
††P. Mangukiya, [Infographic] Is College Worth the Cost?, The Huffington Post, on the internet at www.huffingtonpost.com/piyush-mangukiya/infographicis-college-wor_b_8692234.html.
‡‡D. Leonhardt, Is College Worth It? Clearly, New Data Say, The New York Times, on the internet at www.nytimes.com/2014/05/27/upshot/is-college-worth-it-clearly-new-data-say.html?_r=0.
§§P. Trostel, It’s Not Just the Money: The Benefits of College Education to Individuals and to Society, Lumina Issue Papers, on the internet at www.luminafoundation.org/files/resources/its-not-just-the-money.pdf.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.