Nearly 20 million Americans attend college every year. Yet the harsh reality of our current economic climate now means that a college degree is no longer a guarantee of employment. While a four-year degree is still a fundamentally helpful asset in the job market, the amount of time and money needed to pay back student loans has left many questioning whether going to college is worth the financial sacrifice.
The sharply rising costs of higher education all too often force students to take significant student loans to finance their undergraduate experience. In fact, student loans are at an all-time high; nearly one in five American households is currently burdened by student debt. In October 2012, the Project on Student Debt published a report determining that the average amount of loans per graduating student for the collegiate class of 2011 was $26,600. Two-thirds of the class graduated with student loans.
Unfortunately, these high numbers aren’t surprising; for example, tuition at the University of California has tripled over the past decade. These hikes have been an effort on the system’s part to compensate for the fact that state funding for the UC system has shrunk by $900 million in the past five years alone. Nine tuition increases have been implemented at the UCs for the past nine years, and all the while, the quality of campus resources and ease of getting into classes is deteriorating.
Yet a recently published report has shed some light on the question of obtaining a four-year degree. A study published in January by the Pew Charitable Trusts indicates that high unemployment levels and decreases in income are far more prevalent among 21 to 24-year-olds who lack a college degree. An analysis of federal data shows that, on average, students with a four-year degree are enduring the difficult job market far better than students without a Bachelor’s degree.
Pew conducted this study by using data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey to analyze unemployment rates among 21- to 24-year-olds in the two and a half years before the 2007-2009 recession, during the recession, and then again two and a half years after.
For those with a high school diploma, the employment rate fell after the recession from 55 percent to 47 percent. For those with an associates degree, 64 percent had jobs before the recession and 57 percent emerged with a job intact.
Yet those with a four-year degree handled the economic downturn with the least amount of damage, with the employment rate falling from 69 percent before the recession to 65 percent afterwards.
Diana Elliot, research manager for Pew’s Economic Mobility Project, said, “This shows that any amount of post-secondary education does improve the labor market for those graduates.” She added, “This is not necessarily to discredit those individual stories.”
It goes without saying that for most Americans, affording college is no easy task. Though landing (and keeping) a job after graduation is precarious regardless of your level of education, those with a four-year degree are in a more secure position for employment than their less-educated peers. Let Pew’s recent findings offer the necessary encouragement to take a brave step and pursue that Bachelor’s degree, knowing it will serve you in the end.
- Why Those Student Loans Are Still Worth It (forbes.com)