Public discussion continues about whether the cost of an undergraduate education is worth the effort and expense or not. Almost everyone seems to know someone with a daughter or son who is living in a spare room despite having earned their degree from a high priced college or university in the area. Many of these students still have a significant student loan to repay as well. A 2010 Georgetown study asserted that colleges and universities represent only 35 percent of the post secondary education and training system within the United States. However, colleges are necessary towards providing a vital gateway to the jobs offering the most employer provided training, as well as access to the most powerful workplace technology.
College graduates are almost twice as likely as high school graduates to receive formal training from their employers. The authors of the study add that a college degree is essential towards unlocking access to the middle class or beyond. Acknowledging that the middle class is declining, they note that it is "more accurate ... to say that the middle class is dispersing into two opposing streams of upwardly mobile college-haves and downwardly mobile college-have-nots" (the latter referring to those with only some college, a high school degree, or high school dropouts). Research in the study found that 60 percent of high school graduates in 1970 made it to the middle class, but by 2007, only 45 percent of high school graduates were in the middle class and only 7 percent in the upper three deciles of income. During the same time, those with bachelor's degrees went from 47 percent in the middle class, down to 38 percent. However, the proportion in the upper three deciles went from 37 percent to 48 percent.
Some of the projected lifetime earnings are also a factor in support of earning a college or university degree. From a statistical standpoint, a higher education continues to offer a significant premium and the authors maintain that it is irresponsible to suggest otherwise. Based on US Census Current Population Survey data, the Georgetown Center report calculated the average 40 year career earnings using 2008 dollars, based on the current and projected labor market value of various levels of education. The data show that a high school degree is worth $569,000 more than being a dropout. Having some college experience but not degree adds an estimated $473,000 more.Meanwhile, completing an associate degree further adds $15,000; and completing a bachelor's degree adds another $1.1 million, 45 percent more than a high school diploma. Formal education continues to pay off with a master's degree that's worth nearly a half million dollars more and a doctorate or professional degree adding even higher expected lifetime earnings. Although there are many who argue that a college or university education doesn't provide as much return as it used to, the statistics make it significantly clear that the returns can still be profitable, even in a wavering economy.