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A College Education Pays Off: New College Board Report

January 14, 2020 GMT

NEW YORK, Jan. 14, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- As the price of attending college continues to rise and create anxiety among families, it’s no surprise that the value of going to college is questioned. But the facts are clear: going to college pays off for individuals and society. Individuals with higher education levels earn more and are more likely to be employed and enjoy benefits such as a retirement account and health insurance. Adults with more education are also more likely to move up the socioeconomic ladder and less likely to receive public assistance, according to Education Pays 2019, the latest report from the College Board Trends in Higher Education series.

“Although obtaining a college degree can mean forgone wages during a time when a student is also paying tuition, by age 33 the average bachelor’s degree recipient will have recouped those costs,” explains Jennifer Ma, senior policy research scientist at College Board and a coauthor of the report. “A higher education is an investment that pays significant dividends over the course of a lifetime—even for students who accumulate some debt to obtain a degree.” In 2018, the median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients age 25 working full time were nearly $25,000 higher than those of high school graduates.

Updated triennially since 2004, Education Pays: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society documents differences in the earnings and employment patterns of U.S. adults with different levels of education. The report also establishes a correlation between education and health outcomes, social mobility, and community involvement. In addition to reporting median earnings by education level, this year’s report also documents variation in earnings by different characteristics such as gender, race/ethnicity, occupation, college major, and institutional sector.

Although college enrollment rates continue to rise, the patterns are uneven across demographic groups. Gaps in college enrollment and completion rates can be partially explained by differences in academic preparation in K–12. Yet, even among students with similar academic achievement in high school, students from lower socioeconomic status (SES) families enroll and graduate at lower rates than those from higher SES families. Completion rates tell a similar story of improvement across all demographics, but underrepresented minorities have not seen gains as large as those of whites and Asian Americans. Male students, too, have not kept pace with the progress made by female students in enrollment and completion.

“Given the high payoffs of postsecondary education to both individuals and society as a whole, it is important that we increase college opportunity for all who can benefit and also improve completion rates,” notes Jessica Howell, vice president of research at College Board. “Higher education is a powerful driver of social mobility for lower-income students, and it’s critical that these students have every opportunity to attend and thrive in college.”

The Trends in Higher Education series, which also include the Trends in Student Aid and Trends in College Pricing, provide a foundation for evaluating public policies to increase educational opportunities.

Key findings from the report:

Participation and Success in Higher Education

Earnings and Other Economic Benefits

Variation in Earnings

Health, Volunteerism, and Civic Engagement

Same as the 2016 report, Education Pays 2019 includes labor market outcomes of students from specific majors and institutional sectors. To view the complete report, visit Education Pays 2019.

The Trends in Higher Education series includes the annual Trends in College Pricing and Trends in Student Aid as well as the triennial Education Pays.

For more information about our work, please visit collegeboard.org.

About College Board
College Board is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity. Founded in 1900, College Board was created to expand access to higher education. Today, the membership association is made up of over 6,000 of the world’s leading educational institutions and is dedicated to promoting excellence and equity in education. Each year, College Board helps more than seven million students prepare for a successful transition to college through programs and services in college readiness and college success—including the SAT® and the Advanced Placement® Program. The organization also serves the education community through research and advocacy on behalf of students, educators, and schools. For further information, visit collegeboard.org.

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SOURCE The College Board