Postsecondary Education Can Lead to Better Future

June, the month of high school graduations. The month of ceremonies, sighs of relief, and celebrations. The month of asking, “What’s next?” For many students, the next step is postsecondary education at a community college or university.

But that choice comes at a cost. Decades ago, college students could pay their tuition from their summer job earnings. Today, more and more students are taking out loans to pay for an increasingly expensive higher education. Few students have the luxury to commit to college without considering the sticker price.

There is no denying it: the costs of college have risen dramatically over the years. According to one source, “the cost of higher education has surged more than 528% since 1985. In comparison, medical costs have jumped more than 286% while the consumer price index has jumped 121%. Meaning higher education is almost 4.5 times as expensive as it was 30 years ago.”

So, is college worth it? The answer is overwhelmingly: yes.

Higher education has been shown to improve rates of employment and future earning potential. College graduates make an average of 84% more over the course of a lifetime than those who only attend high school. This advantage adds up significantly over a lifetime. While the cost of attending college can be steep, the difference in median income is more than enough to justify it. An average college graduate who works until retirement earns an additional $800,000.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, those with a college degree earn about twice as much as those with only a high school diploma. In 2015, degree holders earned an average of $48,500, while diploma holders earned an average of $23,900.

Having some postsecondary education, even without earning a degree, adds nearly one quarter of a million dollars to lifetime earnings. Not only will a college education benefit an individual fiscally, it will also reduce unemployment chances. The unemployment rate of college graduates is half the level of their peers. For example, in 2014, the unemployment rate for diploma holders was 6 percent, compared to 3.5 percent for Bachelor degree holders, and 3 percent for Masters degree holders. In today’s job market, a college degree plays a huge role in who gets hired.

Besides the hard data of employment and wage benefits, it’s clear that higher education is the more effective social mobility route in the United States. The Brookings Institute determined that without a college degree, a child in the lowest income bracket has a 45 percent chance of remaining impoverished, and only a 5 percent chance of making it to the highest earning bracket. However, with a college degree, that same child has a 16 percent chance of remaining in the lowest bracket, and an astounding 19 percent chance of making it to the highest income bracket. When looking at economically disadvantaged areas, higher education means more than one individual’s success. It can break cycles of poverty and revitalize communities.

Higher education also provides invaluable, unquantifiable benefits—exposure to different worldviews, a community of peers, access to materials and professors, a chance to explore a passion. Of course, there are a plethora of human beings who never attended college and lead fulfilling, enriched lives while making a good living. College is unique, however, in that it structures its students to become well-rounded. As President Jim Tressel has written in his book, The Winner’s Manual: “We know that many people without an academic degree do wonderful things. We would never suggest that having a degree makes someone a better person. But if they have the opportunity to move toward a degree and find something they are passionate about, they’ll find themselves with choices that someone without a degree might now have.”

Moreover, the costs of college can be manageable. Students can pursue Pell grants and other federal support that does not need to be paid back. Furthermore, students can invest energy into earning scholarships. Lastly, and most importantly, students can choose affordable institutions, as well as degree or certificate programs leading to good careers and salaries, at several area institutions, including Eastern Gateway Community College, Kent State University Trumbull, and Youngstown State University. In addition, students attending school locally can save room and board expenses.

There are accessible and affordable paths locally to make the choice simple: a postsecondary education leading to a better future.

Written by Georgia Kasamias, Eastern Ohio Education Partnership Communications Intern and senior at Youngstown State University.