The writer is president of Bellevue University. She has observed the American education scene for more than 30 years.
While it’s common knowledge that average income increases as educational attainment increases, many may be unaware just how much difference a degree makes, as well as the positive impact more people earning degrees has on the economy.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average income for those who hold a bachelor’s degree is $54,756, while those with only a high school diploma are earning an average of $33,176 annually. This difference becomes even more staggering when you consider that, over the course of a lifetime, someone with a college degree will earn about $1 million more than someone without a degree.
As you become more educated, your value to potential employers increases and you have a better chance of making a higher salary.
What may be even more important are the positive effects that a more educated work force can have on the economy as a whole, especially regarding worker productivity and output.
In fact, according to the Institute for Education Sciences (IES), increases in educational attainment were responsible for an estimated 11 percent to 20 percent of growth in worker productivity in the United States in recent decades. IES reports also show that countries with the highest productivity tend to have highly educated work forces, further supporting the notion that education can make someone more productive and thus more valuable to his or her employer.
While many of us want to be as productive and valuable to employers as possible, recent research shows that many Americans are concerned with their current career path and desire change. According to a Bellevue University study, “Reclaiming the American Dream: Solving the Nation’s Higher Education Problem Can Improve Life for Millions,” 26 percent of those surveyed felt there were too few opportunities in their current line of work and would like to switch to a growing field, and 22 percent said they want to change careers to work a job they actually enjoy.
Getting back in the classroom to expand one’s skill set can lead to a more enjoyable and lucrative career, but too many people are shying away from going back to school because of the rising costs of higher education. In the past 10 years, the College Board reports, tuition at private, nonprofit four-year colleges has increased 60 percent, while tuition at public, four-year colleges has increased 104 percent. That means students are paying, on average, over $22,000 a year at public schools and over $43,000 a year at private schools.
Colleges and universities need to implement affordable education solutions to keep costs down for students. Taking out additional student fees, dropping per-credit costs and using technology to lower the costs of administering classes are all options that can allow students to earn a degree without diving into massive amounts of debt, benefiting both the individual and the American economy.
Professionals expect the money they put toward education to go strictly toward expanding their skill set and advancing their career, rather than toward excess fees that aren’t associated with these things.
Many are looking for a career change and have already earned a degree or at least some credit toward a degree. More than likely, they also hold some form of debt. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the nation’s total student loan bill of $1 trillion and counting now tops all the debt on credit cards.
As student loan debt continues to rise, it becomes increasingly important for colleges and universities to find innovative ways to decrease the financial burden on students.
Another important point is that being in debt scares many Americans, which sadly is another factor that contributes to the hesitation to go back to school. One in three Americans said income loss and increased amounts of personal debt are causing the most strain on their lives, as reported in a recent Bellevue University consumer study.
If Americans continue to be concerned with the lack of affordable options for furthering one’s education, hesitation will continue to stand in the way of action, preventing many from earning a degree that can unlock new doors and spur growth in our economy.