Skip to content

There’s Even More Evidence That A College Degree Is Worth It

By Derek Newton
Reposted from Forbes, with permission

The debate about whether going to college is worth it ought to be over.

College is worth it.

A college degree pays off better than any investment most of us will ever have the chance to make. And that’s just the financial side of the equation. The more valuable rewards of a college education aren’t found in actual bank accounts.

Despite this, college skepticism still runs strong, fueled in part by those in line to profit from the alternatives they are happy to sell. Even though the evidence in favor of college is convincing, it somehow does not get nearly as much attention as the manufactured skepticism. As the quote, likely misattributed to Mark Twain, says, “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.” Especially, I would add, where profit and the lie are traveling together.

To help tamp down this skepticism and to set the record straight, it’s important to amplify the data showing the robust returns of a college degree. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of college-affirming research to share.

A recent example came earlier this month from the Economic Policy Institute, written by Katherine deCourcy and Elise Gould.

Their research shows that young workers with a college degree have already economically recovered from the disruption and displacement caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, they say bluntly, “The labor market for young college graduates today is stronger than it was before the pandemic and has been for quite some time.”

The numbers are indeed strong, the paper finds. “As of March 2024, 65.2% of young college graduates are ‘employed only’ (not enrolled in further schooling), while only 10.0% are “idled” (not enrolled and not employed, which includes the unemployed). The share of young graduates who are ‘employed only’ has been above its pre-pandemic level (64.3% in February 2020) in every month since February 2023.”

For clarity, “idled” does not mean struggling to find work. It can mean that. But, as the paper authors say, idled can also include those who are not working in order to start families or have disabilities that are keeping them from payrolls. So, the 10% figure is soft. But even at full value, among workers between 21 and 24 years old with only a four-year college degree and not in school, the ratio of employed to idled is a lopsided 65-to-10.

EPI data show that the underemployment rate for this cohort — 21 to 24 with a four-year degree only — is just 5.4%.

This mirrors the most recent federal data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on employment showing a healthy, resilient, and historically strong employment environment. The overall national unemployment rate is just 3.9%. For those with a “bachelor’s degree and higher,” the unemployment rate is a microscopic 2.2%. For comparison, for those with a high school diploma only, without any college education, the unemployment rate is nearly double, at 4%, and sits just above the national average.

The EPI work also shows that young college-educated workers experienced actual wage growth — took home more money, even when adjusted for inflation and cost-of-living.

But mostly, the EPI report highlights the very quick economic recovery that college graduates have experienced, post-pandemic — employment and wages have rebounded faster and further than in any recent period of recovery. EPI finds that the historic rate of recuperation for college graduates, and others, was the result of active federal policy.

“These findings highlight the tremendous role that large fiscal relief and recovery packages, including expanded unemployment insurance coverage and aid to state and local governments, had on healing the labor market after the pandemic recession. Unlike previous business cycles, young workers were not left behind by policy,” the report reads.

Though the strong labor market and salary rewards were likely the result of targeted policies, the underlying case remains — in nearly every economic condition, a college degree pays off. Getting that important parchment from a credible nonprofit or public school puts more money in your paycheck and makes it more likely that you will get one.

For the people who will actually look at the evidence, the EPI report is strong, but not alone. The jury is back on this question. A college degree is well worth the cost, the effort, and the time it takes to get it.

Originally posted on Forbes May 30, 2024