Kalamazoo Gazette/January 23, 2012
By Julie Mack
A large body of research indicates that the value of a college degree affects almost every aspect of life.
The conventional wisdom these days -- OK, the more cynical version of conventional wisdom -- is that a college degree is a ticket to student debt and not much else.
Just a few days ago on mlive.com, commenter spikes 11 made a sarcastic reference to how higher education results in a "$25,000 job after 5 years and $100k in student loans to pay off for the next 50 years."
There in Sunday's New York Times, an article ominously headlined"A Mess on the Ladder of Success" noted that "until now, a B.A. in any subject was a near-guarantee of at least middle-class wages. But today, a quarter of college graduates make less than the typical worker without a bachelor’s degree."
As the mother of three college students, these aren't exactly the words I want to hear. Is all the time, money and effort being poured into my children's endeavors going for naught?
But here's something else to consider: For all the depressing student loan and job statistics, there's a huge and growing body of reseach that suggests college graduates have any advantage in almost every aspect of life.
Let's look at that research.
-- Being employed: Unemployment among those with a bachelor's degree was 4.1 percent in December, compared to 7.7 percent for those with an associate's degree or some college, 8.7 percent for those with a high school degree and no college, and 13.8 percent for high school dropouts.
-- Marriage: Data suggests that college-educated Americans are more likely to get married, stay married and have happier marriages. A 2010 report from the Pew Center looks at Census numbers that look at marriage and divorce by educational attainment. Meanwhile, a 2010 report by the University of Virginia reports that 69 percent of college graduates describe their marriage as "very happy" compared to 52 percent of high school graduates.
-- Children: Children of college-educated parents are more likely to be raised in a two-parent families, have better health, and have better school performance than children with parents who did not attend college. The children of college-educated parents are also much less likely to grow up in poverty and much more likely to enroll and succeed in higher education.
-- Health: Even taking income into account, there's a strong correlation between education and a person's health. College graduates live longer and have better health than those with less education. Areport by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation indicates that college graduates can expect to live five years longer than those with just a high school degree.
Here's an excerpt from a story this past week in the New York Times about aging and mental fitness:
As it turns out, one essential element of mental fitness has already been identified. “Education seems to be an elixir that can bring us a healthy body and mind throughout adulthood and even a longer life,” says Margie E. Lachman, a psychologist at Brandeis University who specializes in aging. For those in midlife and beyond, a college degree appears to slow the brain’s aging process by up to a decade, adding a new twist to the cost-benefit analysis of higher education.
-- Civic engagement: Despite the stereotype that college graduates are more skeptical of religion, recent data indicates that weekly church attendance is more common among those with more education. College graduates also are more likely to participate in other types of civic engagement.
-- Happiness: It's absolutely true that a college degree isn't a guaranteed ticket to happiness. But, on the whole, people with college degrees tend to report a better sense of well-being -- which makes sense if, on the whole, they're earning more money, have more stable home lives and better health.
Julie Mack is a reporter for the Kalamazoo Gazette. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269-388-8578, or follow her on Twitter.com at Twitter.com/kzjuliemack.