What You Need to Know About the Value of Education

We know a lot about the cost of an education. It costs too much. Here are some other things we know about education. Growing student debt is a student problem that is rapidly becoming a threat to growth of our economy. These issues are getting a lot of attention these days. In contrast, there is little good information about the value of an education today. This post is devoted to the value indicators.  Buzz Today Source: Pew Research Center “The Growing Economic Clout of the College Educated.”College-educated households are the only households whose incomes have grown on a per household basis from 1991 to 2012. There are a number of factors at play in boosting the household incomes of the college educated relative to less-educated households. A primary factor is the better fortunes of the college educated in the labor market. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce finds college graduates earn nearly twice as much as workers with just a high school diploma.

Value Proposition number 1: Education is the key to upward social mobility. Research shows that it is possible to move up in society – with an education. Source:  Federal Reserve Board of San Francisco: A college education can counter the effects of birthright. Only 5% of children born into the bottom quintile (lowest 20%) who don’t graduate from college end up in the top quintile (top 20%). By contrast, 30% of bottom-quintile children who graduate rise to the top quintile (from the bottom 20% to the top 20%). This is clear evidence that a college education is key to the American Dream of having a better life than one’s parents.

Value Proposition number 2: College favorably impacts skills that are important to compete in our modern global economy.  Source: “How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research”. All of the following critical skills were found to have statistically significant improvement as a result of a college education. The list includes:

Verbal skills    Quantitative skills     Speaking skills      Written communications     Critical thinking skills      Conceptual complexity.

A survey of employers shows that employers are looking for these very skills.  A report from the American Association of Colleges and Universities  provides data from a January, 2014 survey of 318 corporate executives showed that 93% of those responding agreed that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems” is more important than the skills of the candidate’s undergraduate major.  And 75% of those surveyed said they want more emphasis on critical thinking, problem-solving, written and oral communications and applied knowledge.  And 95% said they want new hires to demonstrate ethical judgement, integrity and the capacity to continue to learn.

Value proposition number 3: College educated households are the only one’s with growing household incomes. All other levels of education have actually declined.

Household Income (2012 dollars)

Education                                  1991              2012             Percent change

Less than high school             $33,959       $32,631                 -4%

High School                                 54,707         52,199                  -5%

Some College, no degree           66,038        63,008                 -5%

Associate’s                                    72,407        68,902                  -5%

Bachelor’s                                     92,289       100,637                +9%

Master’s                                        104,193      114,897               +10%

Professional                                 150,869       180,671               +20%

Doctorate                                      131,365       150,087               +14%

Source:  Pew Trust Research

When you look at the difference between the income for Some College, no degree and the income of a Bachelor’s degree you can see why it is so very important for those with some credits but no degree to complete their college education and graduate.  The difference in income is worth, on average, over $37,000 each year. There are about 38 million Americans in this position.  The irony is that with wise choices, it could cost as little as another $25,000 to complete that degree. Doing that would be of immense value when the value created every year is much more than the total investment.

The cost of an education is pretty clear. The value of an education is less clear. And least clear of all is how to get the value of an education without incurring the high costs that are so widely reported these days. For the latter, see Your Future is Calling for exercises and valuable data.

Good Paying Jobs That Do Not Require a Bachelor’s Degree

There are good paying jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree but they do require skills that are changing as our world changes. Learning is still key to a better future. But how do you decide what to learn?  The answer is that you should begin with “who you are” then decide what to study that can lead to a better future for yourself and your loved ones. Buzz TodaySource: O*NET  The O*NET program is the nation’s primary source of occupational information. Every occupation requires a different mix of knowledge, skills, and abilities, and is performed using a variety of activities and tasks. The data base defines the set of occupations across the world of work. Based on the Standard Occupational Classification the O*NET-SOC taxonomy currently includes 974 occupations 

With so many occupations to select from, it is no wonder that readers are challenged to find just the right combination of factors needed to fit exactly “who they are”.  In this post we explore the important characteristics of a few of the 974 choices to show how a new career can be chosen.  I recommend that you look at several important characteristics for any career you may be considering.  These are:

* The size of the profession. This gives you an indication of how many jobs in this profession there are in the US economy. Here size matters. Larger professions provide more opportunities.

* Growth in the profession is another important parameter for you to consider.  As our world changes opportunities in different careers are changing as well.  Some careers attractive just a few years ago have already been impacted by changes.  A good example is desktop publishing.  Only a few years ago this was a growing job opportunity.  Today this profession is much less attractive with a very limited growth prospect.

* Earnings are another important piece of information in your career choice. Incurring student debt to earn credentials in a poorly paying occupation is a path to a dismal future.

* How well the occupation fits you is another important factor. This is the part about “who you are”.  Here again you need good data about personality and the characteristics of those already in the profession.

Here is data on a few of the 974 careers.  All of these require less than a bachelor degree and are reasonably accessible through education at a community college at a reasonable investment level.

Patrol Police Officer

This is a profession that, with the right personal history, is relatively easy to enter.  42% of current officers entered the profession directly from high school but an associate’s degree provides better prospects.  It is a large profession with 664,000 current positions growing by 249,000 (2010-2020).  The median pay is $55,270 per year.  This profession requires personal attributes that include integrity, self control, stress tolerance and attention to detail.

Dental Hygienist

This is a reasonably large job classification with 182,000 current positions with over two thirds occupied by professionals with an associate’s degree making it a relatively easy profession to enter through a very affordable path at a local community college. Growth is projected to be over 29% (2010-2020) and compensation in 2012 was highly attractive with an annual median income of $70,210.  In addition to technical training required, personality attributes that align with the requirements of the job include a good-natured and cooperative attitude.


This is a large employment category with employment of 256,000 with good growth projected over the next decade.  The median salary in 2012 was $46,990 annually. Apprenticeships by state are available.  In addition, certificates are available from The Association of Legal Assistants/Paralegals.   Personal attributes including attention to detail, dependability, and integrity.

Registered Nurse
This is a huge profession with 2010 employment at 2,737,000 with projected openings by 2020 of 1,207,400 professionals. This size and growth are being driven by new medical technology and the aging of the baby boomers. Compensation is attractive at a 2012 median level of $65,470 annually. Personality attributes important in this profession include concern for others, dependability, stress tolerance, self control and attention to detail.

Summary:   All of these careers can be entered with learning that is less than the traditional bachelor’s degree.  This makes learning a key but manageable entry to these attractive professional careers.

Your Competition

Many are questioning how wise it is to earn a college degree. Those arguing against the decision cite the number of taxi cab drivers with bachelor degree as evidence on why you should not invest in your own education.

It is true that the most recent recession and high unemployment has made jobs scarce for some time. The result has been more educated individuals taking what ever jobs are available just to have an income.

There is another side to this conversation however. Even in the face of slower job growth, the supply of well educated competitors for your future continues to grow. The data from the Pew Research Center shown in the BUZZ Today insert shows that more individuals are earning a degree.

Buzz Today Source: Pew Research Center Title: American Adults Better Educated Than Ever Before In 2012, about three-in-ten Americans 25 and older had completed at least a bachelor’s degree. In 1971 only 12% of adults ages 25 and older had completed at least a four-year college degree. For 2012, a record share of the nation’s young adults ages 25 to 29 (90%) had finished at least a high school education. And another record share – 63% — had completed at least some college.

For those with some college education the competitive implications are clear. Depending on how many credits you have, the additional courses you might need to take can be significantly less than earning a bachelor degree from scratch. Indeed, there are several very attractive ways to get some of the credits you need to complete your degree.

CLEP and DSST examines allow you to earn credit for subjects you are already proficient in. Prior Learning Assessments (PLA) are available from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and some colleges will articulate corporate and/or military training for credit. To see how you can use each of these alternatives to your personal advantage read Your Future is Calling.