NEW YORK - As the price of attending college continues to rise and create anxiety among families, it's no surprise that the value of going to college is questioned.
But the facts are clear: going to college pays off for individuals and society. Individuals with higher education levels earn more and are more likely to be employed and enjoy benefits such as a retirement account and health insurance.
Adults with more education are also more likely to move up the socioeconomic ladder and less likely to receive public assistance, according to Education Pays 2019, the latest report from the College Board Trends in Higher Education series.
"Although obtaining a college degree can mean forgone wages during a time when a student is also paying tuition, by age 33 the average bachelor's degree recipient will have recouped those costs," explains Jennifer Ma, senior policy research scientist at the College Board and a co-author of the report. "A higher education is an investment that pays significant dividends over the course of a lifetime - even for students who accumulate some debt to obtain a degree."
In 2018, the median earnings of bachelor's degree recipients age 25 working full-time were nearly $25,000 higher than those of high school graduates.
The report also establishes a correlation between education and health outcomes, social mobility, and community involvement. In addition to reporting median earnings by education level, this year's report also documents variation in earnings by different characteristics such as gender, race/ethnicity, occupation, college major and institutional sector.
Although college enrollment rates continue to rise, the patterns are uneven across demographic groups. Gaps in college enrollment and completion rates can be partially explained by differences in academic preparation in K-12.
Yet, even among students with similar academic achievement in high school, students from lower socioeconomic status (SES) families enroll and graduate at lower rates than those from higher SES families. Completion rates tell a similar story of improvement across all demographics, but underrepresented minorities have not seen gains as large as those of whites and Asian Americans.
Male students, too, have not kept pace with the progress made by female students in enrollment and completion.
"Given the high payoffs of postsecondary education to both individuals and society as a whole, it is important that we increase college opportunity for all who can benefit and also improve completion rates," said Jessica Howell, vice president of research at the College Board. "Higher education is a powerful driver of social mobility for lower-income students, and it's critical that these students have every opportunity to attend and thrive in college."
The Trends in Higher Education series, which also includes the Trends in Student Aid and Trends in College Pricing, provide a foundation for evaluating public policies to increase educational opportunities.