College Matters | College pays off in many ways

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, February 29, 2024 - 1:30pm

There’s a lot of chatter recently, as I’m sure you have noticed, about whether college is really “worth it.” You see it in social media, in occasional news stories, and in some political debate. It’s a lot of noise, but not based on particularly good data or facts. Unfortunately, this idea still seeps into the conversation and can deter some students who would really benefit from college.

It must be acknowledged that some people can thrive in college, and others may take a different path. That is perfectly fine as well as needed in society. The university is always an advocate for a person to discover the best path for them and their family. This column is focused on why college matters.

Here are statements you have heard, but are NOT factual:

• The cost of college has risen.

• Students obtain outrageous debt attending college.

• A liberal arts degree doesn’t earn you money.

• Higher education can’t be trusted.

Again, those statements are not accurate. According to the Education Advisory Board, a national research organization, the net cost of higher education has actually declined over the past decade between 2.6%-4% after considering inflation. For those students who obtain debt, it is often less than $25,000. That is less than most new vehicles, yet doesn’t immediately depreciate. More importantly, 80% of those with a college degree earn more than those with only a high school degree.

As Cal Poly Humboldt adds more science, technology, and engineering degrees, it’s important to highlight that liberal arts still really matter. As far as earnings, some liberal arts majors may not earn as much initially, but they make up for it 10-20 years later as they move into middle positions. And there are many possibilities thereafter.

In addition, college graduates generally have more job satisfaction, better health care, and better financial well-being. Higher education is the 4th most trusted industry. Lastly, despite what you may read about some industries removing the degree requirement for specific jobs, those same companies still hire college graduates. Hiring of non-degreed individuals has only grown 3%. College matters.

A college education, based on decades of data, is incredibly beneficial financially, socially, and even physically. The degree is positive for the individual, as well as their families and their communities.

Higher education is an investment, and it’s the best investment you can make in your future. For most young people, the reality is they will be far better off with a college degree. In California, in particular, you get an incredible bargain at our public universities. With comparably low tuition combined with federal financial aid and generous state financial aid, college in our state is an affordable investment.

I’ve highlighted some additional key facts about college degrees below. If you’re thinking about college, please consider the incredible value that a college education offers. If you have a child or grandchild or friend or anyone else you know who is thinking about going to college, please share some of these facts with them.

• College graduates with a two-year degree earn about $400,000 more than a high school graduate over their lifetimes. Those with a four-year degree make about $1 million more, and those with more other advanced degrees earn even more.

• Wages for college graduates tend to accelerate over time, as the graduates gain additional experience and promotions.

• College graduates have an easier time finding jobs, in part through the networks and experiences of being in college. They are more likely to be employed, even through economic ups and downs.

• Achieving a college degree can both help the graduate support their immediate family and help inspire other family members to pursue a degree.

• College graduates are often more involved in their communities. They are more likely to vote, volunteer, give to charities, and join community organizations.

This is not to say everything is easy for college graduates, any more than for others. Life is challenging, and there are no guarantees. A college degree tilts the odds, in many ways, strongly in one’s favor.

On the North Coast, our new industries, our new approaches to sustainable development, our resilience in the face of a changing climate — all will be led primarily by college graduates. Just as we see nationally, the opportunities will be much greater with a college degree as a foundation.

Who manages the local bank? Who are the nurses and physicians you see regularly? Who is your dentist? Who do you trust to fly the jet plane you’re traveling on? Who are the police officers in uniform? And, who do you send your child to for hours every day at school? They are almost all college graduates. That’s why it’s so important that we encourage individuals to consider college. Both the College of the Redwoods and Cal Poly Humboldt welcome you.

Be well.

Dr. Tom Jackson Jr. is the president of Cal Poly Humboldt.