Higher Education Still Pays for Itself

Guest Correspondence

Much of the narrative recently is about student debt and the “cost” of higher education. So much so it is easy to forget the long-term financial benefit a college degree I read an interesting article two weeks ago about the increasing pay gap between college graduates and those who did not go to college. The Associated Press article, based on information from the Economic Policy Institute, demonstrates a stark contrast between college graduates and their peers without degrees.

The earnings gap between those with a college degree and those without has reached 56 percent, the largest gap in the Economic Policy Institute’s figures, which go back to 1973. College-educated workers have benefited most since the Great Recession ended, the AP article says, capturing most of the new jobs and pay gains. This economic disparity goes further than just income, however, impacting a higher likelihood of homeownership, marriage and comfortable retirement.

The EPI’s pay gap demonstrates that a college education has never been more important to an individual’s future. While we must keep education affordable and manage costs to ensure students are not weighed down by debt, we must also continue to create opportunities for as many as possible to attain a higher education. A pay gap this large shows that the return on investment for the cost of a college education is worth a reasonable level of sacrifice.

The AP article’s reference to a new middle-income job market and the acknowledgement that simply sending everyone for a traditional four-year education is not the answer also caught my attention. The new middle-class of employment features jobs that require many different higher education pathways, including shorter and less expensive ones. The article states that labor experts feel the U.S. educational system is failing to help our young people acquire the skills required for these jobs. Florida’s colleges are working very hard to prepare our students for this new job market, although we are always striving to secure more funding and put more effort behind this issue.

Associates degree graduates earn $10,600 more per year than their peers with high school diplomas, based on data compiled by the Florida College System in 2013. Those students receive a 16.8 percent return on the time and money they invest in their education. The State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, is a member of the Florida College System and our workforce programs target the new middle job market described in the AP article. We work closely with area employers to ensure that our programs not only match up with local employment needs, but are in fields that give our graduates the kind of return referenced in the FCS study.

A pay gap of more than 50 percent between those with college degrees and those without demonstrates strong value in attaining a higher education. It is a return on investment that cannot be ignored. The key for our students is to create the educational programs that match the employment opportunities in our region. Higher education will retain its value when it creates opportunities and return on investment, not insurmountable debt.

Dr. Carol Probstfeld is president of State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota

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