Lessons from the Recession: College Matters

A degree proves key to avoiding some of the worst economic bumps.

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New research from the College Board paints a stark contrast between those who have college degrees and those who don’t. College graduates face a 4.6 percent unemployment rate compared to high school graduates’ 9.7 percent rate. They also earn far more: Bachelor degree holders over age 25 earn a median salary of $55,700. High school grads earn just $33,800.

These numbers don’t mean college grads are impervious to the recession’s effects. Their unemployment rates still went up (from 2.6 to 4.6 percent), just not nearly as much as their peers with only high school degrees.

[See 5 Myths About Generation Debt.]

Despite general acknowledgment that education leads to higher incomes—pop culture from MTV’s Teen Mom to NBC’s Parenthood promotes that basic idea—the sharp contrast between the two groups is still shocking. College degrees matter a lot, especially in downturns.

Money isn’t the only benefit, either. The College Board reports that college graduates are more likely to have access to employer-provided health insurance, exercise, and volunteer in their communities.

So what stands in people’s way to achieving this very American dream? Tuition and the other costs of attending college are biggest factor. College is expensive. Life also gets in the way—children, family obligations, and emotional stress can all prevent people from collecting their diplomas.

This kind of research underscores the message of so many television and movie plots: Somehow finding a way to snag that degree will pay off later.

  • See also: Survey: Young People Hit the Hardest