College still worth cost?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Given all the angst about rising tuition costs and mounting student debt — now totalling $1 trillion — it’s no surprise more people are questioning whether college is still a good investment for young people.
A new report from the Pew Research Center offers an answer. While college isn’t for everybody, a degree offers many benefits, economic and otherwise, for those who are willing to do the work as well as pay the tuition bills. Here are some key findings from the report, which looked at income and employment among young adults, especially the millennials now between 25 and 32 years old:
n There’s a wider earnings gap between college-educated and less-educated millennials compared with previous generations. Millennial college graduates who are working full time earn more annually — about $17,500 more — than employed young adults with only a high school diploma. The pay gap was significantly smaller in previous generations.
n College-educated millennials also are more likely to be employed full time than their less-educated counterparts (89 percent vs. 82 percent) and significantly less likely to be unemployed (3.8 percent vs. 12.2 percent).
n College-educated millennials are more likely to be married and less likely to be living with their parents.
n College-educated millennials express greater job satisfaction and are more likely to see themselves on a career path, rather than simply making ends meet. About 86 percent of millennials with a college degree see themselves as being on a career track. Only 57 percent of those with only a high-school degree or less see themselves as riding a career trajectory.
n About nine in 10 college grads of all ages says college was, or will eventually be, worth the investment. However, choice of major matters. Among all grads, science or engineering majors are the most likely to view their current job as closely related to their field of study, compared to social science or liberal arts majors. Those in science or engineering are also least likely to say that a different major would have better prepared them for the job they really wanted.
The Pew report shouldn’t be interpreted as an argument that everyone should go to college. Many young people can do quite well, economically as well as in job satisfaction, by pursuing a skilled trade or other profession that requires post-high school training but not a four-year college degree. There’s also no disputing that the recession and a slow recovery have made it more difficult for young college grads to land full-time jobs. But the report offers some needed reassurance that a college degree remains a worthwhile investment, especially for those who major in fields that have the highest need for new grads.