New Report Weighs the Benefits of College

The College Board, the group that administers the SAT and AP tests, has released a report with a slew of positive data for college graduates.

Report Weighs the Benefits of College

When a report on the value of a college education starts with a section called “What Is College?”, it’s likely to be thorough. When that same report comes with a supplement subtitled “Understanding the Issues,” you know it is. That’s the level of detail in the College Board’s latest report “Education Pays: 2013.” The data included makes a strong case for the value of higher education—and that’s exactly the point.

The value of a post-secondary education may seem like conventional wisdom, but many have challenged it in recent years. Since the College Board’s 2010 version of the report, politicians, commentators, and critics have questioned the comprehensiveness of such reports. With an ailing economy, persistent unemployment, and skyrocketing college costs, they ask, is college really worth it? And is college for everyone? The debate has played out over and over—including in the pages of this magazine—but the latest numbers still show college graduates outperforming high school grads in a number of economic and quality-of-life metrics.

Bachelors degree holders earn $21,000 more than high school graduates, have lower unemployment, and are, on average, able to make up for being out of the workforce for four years by age 36. However, the income gap between degree-earners and those who haven’t completed college has shrunk between 2008 and 2011. The long-term trend, the report notes, is still upward.

A number of other factors outside of income were considered as well. Graduates contribute more to federal, state, and local governments through taxes, and are far less likely to use social welfare programs. College grads can also count themselves lucky to be more civically engaged and more likely to get health and other benefits from their employers on top of their higher salaries. They are also more likely to climb the socioeconomic ladder over the course of their lifetime, live those lives healthier, and spend more time understanding the developmental needs of their children. A note in the report mentions that “substantial evidence” points to all those trends being a result of educational attainment, not simply personal characteristics.

The report also dives into data that’s not so positive. Despite higher attainment overall, minority groups still lag behind in enrollment, and completion levels vary considerably across demographic groups.

Like all statistics, the College Board’s numbers will likely face scrutiny, and the report will be used by partisans of multiple educational philosophies. That’s just fine with co-author Sandy Baum, who told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the statistics are just that: numbers.

“This report per se is presenting evidence,” Ms. Baum said. “We’re not telling anyone to do anything.”

Photo courtesy Sholeh via Flickr Creative Commons.


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