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Post-secondary degree should be the norm

Going to college isn’t just about setting the student up to earn more money. There are so many more things riding on getting a post-secondary degree. It’s a little hard to understand why the state, along with its colleges and universities haven’t acted sooner and more aggressively to get people into college classrooms.

The undeniable obvious benefit of a post-secondary degree is more income. Whether you look at income from the hourly perspective or over the course of a lifetime, going to college enables the student to earn more money. Not every degree has the same worth, and I have written extensively about the narrow earnings gap between a high school diploma and a community college degree. If community colleges want to survive, they simply need to do a better job of opening up the earning potential of their programs.

Other, less obvious benefits of a post-secondary degree include better overall health and longevity, higher employment rates, better insulation from economic downturns, where a person lives, where their children go to school, the size of their savings account, their economic readiness for retirement and a host of other quality-of-life benefits.

Graduating with a post-secondary degree also confers benefits on the state. A more educated workforce is more adaptable to change, better prepared to attract new employers and new industries, and better able to fill high-demand jobs. It also allows the state, and its employers, to work more efficiently when the number of available workers is low – like now, as 10,000 Baby Boomers per day exit the workforce. Highly educated workers also increase their states’ income tax collections.

The value of a post-secondary degree

But all of this happens if -and only if – the student graduates from a college or university. With a bachelor’s degree, a worker can expect to earn $427 more per week than a worker with an associate degree. With an associate degree, a worker can expect to earn only about $70 more per week than a worker who went to college but didn’t graduate. That some-college-no-degree worker can expect to earn $82 more per week than the worker who has only a high school diploma.

Community colleges do no one in their communities any favors when they encourage, support, participate in, and/or deliver minimal-skill job training programs designed to “get workers into the workforce quickly.” As a state, we really do not need more workers with minimal skill sets. That approach doesn’t benefit the worker, and doesn’t benefit the state, so let’s be very clear about the rationale for doing it, and then let’s rethink it.

Photo Credit: COD Newsroom, via Flickr