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Pew: College Is Expensive, but Not Going Is Even More Costly

By Corey Murray

A new report from the Pew Research Center reveals several key benefits of a college education — and points out why, in the long run, not going to college often costs more than the price of attendance.

A college education is expensive — increasingly so, thanks in large part to recent budget cuts. But you know what’s more costly than the rising cost of higher education? Not going to college at all.

That’s what the authors of a new Pew Research report posit, anyway.

Here’s a look at several key findings, as summed up by Pew web producer Andrea Caumont.

The earnings gap is growing

The report indicates that students who attend college — especially those who go on to earn at least a bachelor’s degree — earn more, on average.

That disparity was evident even before the baby boomer generation. But the gap is even wider today, as the graphic below shows. Millennials who earn a bachelor’s degree have a median annual income of $45,500 while graduates with some college or a two-year degree take home $30,000.

In 2013, the annual median salary for workers ages 25 to 32 who have just a high school diploma was $28,000. That’s an earnings gap of more than $17,500. In 1979, that same gap was less than $10,000. Talk about widening!

Pew Graphic 1

The cost of not going to college is higher

You know that students can earn more by going to college. But did you know that they also stand to lose money by not going?

There was a time when high school graduates could leave school, get a job and earn a living wage. But that’s often not the case for millennials. Younger students with just a high school diploma are struggling. In 1979, baby boomers with just a high school education could expect to earn upwards of $50,000 a year in inflation-adjusted dollars. And the likelihood of full-time employment for high school graduates hovered around 87 percent. In 2013, millennials with just a high school diploma pulled in less than $40,000 annually, on average. What’s worse, they have a harder time finding jobs: Just 82 percent can expect to land full-time employment.

Pew Graphic 2

College grads say the choice was worth it

The price of college is on the rise. But even millennials, many of whom have faced steep tuition hikes, say the cost is worth it in the long run. Sixty-two percent of millennials surveyed said their investment had already paid off. Another 26 percent expected that it would, eventually. Over the last three generations, the study found that 91 percent of college graduates believed their educations had already proved or would prove their worth.

Pew Graphic 3

These are just a few of the points illustrated by Pew’s latest research. For more, including the overall job satisfaction of college graduates and the importance of major areas of study, read the full article.

Corey Murray

is editor of the 21st-Century Center.

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