The high cost of not going to college VIEWPOINT:

February 26, 2007

The high cost of not going to college VIEWPOINT

Recent studies reinforce what many parents and prospective students have found out firsthand: The cost of a college education is rising beyond what some middle- to lowincome families can afford.

The cost of attending a public college rose 35 percent during the past five years, after adjusting for inflation, according to studies by the College Board, a not-for-profit organization that administers standardized tests throughout the country. As these and other studies demonstrate, rising tuition and fees, combined with the accompanying rise in student debt loads, have resulted in the most profound American higher education challenge of our time.

These numbers, however, tell only part of the story. While it is true that the rising cost of a college education must be curtailed, it is also true that the cost of not going to college is even greater. It is undeniable that, for our work force to meet its potential in the global 21st century economy, college must be affordable and students and parents must be informed about the true value of post-secondary education.

One way to measure the effect of a college degree is individual earnings potential. Median earnings of men who graduate from a four-year college are 63 percent higher than median earnings of males with no more than a high school degree; for women, that difference is 70 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Those who receive an associate's degree also see a significant rise in earnings, especially at the peak of their careers: graduates of associate's degree programs ages 35-44 earn an average of $41,200 annually, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. High school graduates 35-44, however, earn just $32,200 annually.

There is a clear correlation between education attainment and employability. In 2005, the national unemployment rate was 4.4 percent. For those with just a high school degree, however, the unemployment rate was 5.4 percent. Those with an associate's degree or some college credit fared much better, with a 4.2-percent unemployment rate. Those with a bachelor's or advanced degree saw an unemployment rate of just 2.3 percent.

The benefits of a college degree, however, go beyond dollars and cents. Parents with a college degree were much more likely to discuss community, national and world events and more likely to attend sporting events, movies or plays with their children, according to the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, conducted on behalf of the National Center for Education Statistics. In many cases, this is not a measure of how much parents care for their children; instead, it reflects the increased time and resources available to heads of households with college degrees.

It's no surprise that college-educated parents are also more likely to make an investment in education: Regardless of income, parents with a college degree have a higher incidence of saving money to help send their children to college.

Today, the United States has the highest proportion of adults between the ages of 55 and 64 with a college degree. However, other countries-including Canada, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands and Sweden-have higher college completion rates among 25-34 year olds. This erosion in our standing as the world's best-educated nation must be halted.

In Indiana, our colleges and universities must continue working together to lower the cost of a degree through increased collaboration, transferability of credits, and innovative dual enrollment options that give high school students a head start on their post-secondary education.

In the meantime, it is crucial for families to continue to see the value in a college degree-and for educators and administrations to continue demonstrating that a degree provides a significant return on investment.

D'Amico is executive vice president of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana.
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