Why College Education Matters


by Gary Davidson, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association of Community Colleges

Recently some critics of higher education have manufactured some research to tell us that a college education is not worth the price anymore. Funny how those that think higher education is a bad investment for someone else’s kids always make sure that their own children attend college.

Please consider the following objective data on this subject. First, there is a direct correlation between higher levels of education and higher earnings. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that the lifetime earnings for a person with a Bachelors degree is $1.1 million dollars more than high school graduate. That rate jumps to $1.5 million for a person with a Masters Degree and $3.7 million for a Professional degree.

Two year colleges in Oklahoma are an incredible bargain.  For approximately $5,000 per year Oklahoma students can earn an Associate’s degree.  This includes many high demand fields such as nursing or information technology. The cost of that degree is recouped 2 or three times over in the first year salary earned.  The bargain is even better when you consider that many local, state, and federal scholarship, grant and low interest loan programs are available to significantly reduce or eliminate tuition, fees and other costs of college.

There are also important societal benefits of higher education. Higher levels of education correspond to lower levels of unemployment which means college graduates contribute more for economic investments such as highways and bridges and create less demand for public welfare and Medicaid programs.

College graduates have lower smoking rates, require less health care, and have significantly lower incarceration rates than individuals who have not graduated from college. There is a direct correlation between higher education levels and civic participation including volunteer work, voting and blood donations. For the first time in U.S. history, the current generation of college-age Americans will be less educated than their parents’ generation, and yet our workplaces require higher-level skills than ever before. The U.S. has fallen in international education rankings. In one single generation, America fell from 1st to 12th in college completion rates for young adults. Given these facts, policy discussions about higher education should focus on objective data, not demagoguery.

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