Is a College Degree Worth the Investment?

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Many print and web publications regularly explore the topic of whether a college education is worthwhile. This has become an even more common discussion recently.  America’s economic downturn has made answering this question a high priority for many families.

When the most current evidence is examined, however, the consensus is that higher education—particularly Christian higher education—is a smart investment in the future. This is especially true of a Christian college like Maranatha, where training for local church ministry is the focus but an excellent education is also available for those targeting a professional career or vocation.

Surveys and statistical studies support this notion. In fact, a Brookings Institution study released in June 2011 puts the yearly return on investment from a college degree at 15.2 percent—more than double the average return of stock market investments since 1950.

What follows is a sampling of recent research studies on the effect a college education can have on income, employability, and even an enduring personal faith.  We think you’ll agree it is a worthwhile discussion.

Salaries Higher

Many sources support the notion that college graduates earn more money in both the long and short term.

The Los Angeles Times reported in 2011 that the average take-home pay of college graduates is $38,950, compared to $21,500 for high school graduates. Those figures were taken from research by analyst Sarah Millar of the ConvergEx Group.

The 2011 Brookings Institution study indicates that a 50-year-old college graduate in 2010 earned, on average, $46,500 per year more than someone with a high school diploma. The Brookings study also reported that a 22-year-old college student can expect to earn 70 percent more upon graduation than a peer of identical age with no postsecondary education.

Estimates in several studies of how much more college graduates will earn over their lifetime range from $280,000 to $800,000. That gap may widen even further—the average salary for 2011 graduates rose 2.3 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Unemployment Lower

Choosing a major is important, because some degree fields offer more optimism for potential employment than others. The NACE survey, reported in The New Yorker, said 46 percent of accounting majors and 40 percent of business majors had already been offered jobs upon graduating. The same study found that business students earned an average starting salary of $48,144.  Nursing majors and others in health sciences averaged $44,955.

The ConvergEx Group report indicated the unemployment rate for those with college degrees was 4.4 percent, compared with 9.6 percent for high school graduates and 13.8 percent for those who never finished high school.

Time Magazine reported that, in 2010, 90 percent of college graduates from 2008-10 were employed, compared to 64 percent of those who had not attended college. Time also reported in April of 2012 that 62 percent of U.S. jobs require a degree beyond high school, a figure expected to increase to 75 percent by 2020.

Customers Satisfied

The Pew Research Center surveyed 334 adult college graduates for a report released in May of 2011.  Eighty-six percent of those graduates said college had been a good investment for them. Adult college graduates surveyed said they believe they earn about $20,000 per year more because of their degree; those without degrees answering the same survey figure they earn about $20,000 less. That total matches up well with the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 estimated gap: $19,550.

Four-year college graduates among the 2,142 adults who responded to the Pew survey also endorsed the content of their education.  Seventy-four percent said their college education helped them grow intellectually; 69 percent said it helped them grow and mature as a person; and 55 percent said it was “very useful” in helping them prepare for a job or career.

College is expensive, true. But, in its analysis of the ConvergEx findings, the Los Angeles Times noted that the total value of a college education can far exceed what is spent to obtain that degree. “The bottom line of this analysis is that college pays, literally and figuratively,” Millar wrote.

One aspect of satisfaction with the educational process is leaving school with as little debt as possible.  Fortunately, more people are planning ahead for college. Time reported that assets in 529 college savings plans were a record $165 billion in 2011, including $20 billion in new money.

The Most Important Investment

Worth the InvestmentA Christian college education is even more desirable because of what it offers to students—classes taught from a biblical worldview, positive peer influences, and a supportive campus atmosphere.

The influence of the educational environment on a young adult cannot be overstated. A 2010 study reported that 52 percent of students at UCLA said they had attended church services frequently before entering college, but the number still attending had dropped to 29 percent three years later. A 2003 study by former University of Arkansas Admissions Director Dr. Steve Henderson showed that 52 percent of 16,000 students surveyed at 133 secular colleges had left Christianity behind by graduation.

Meanwhile, a 2011 survey of 1,000 Christian college graduates by psychology professors Kaye Cook and Cynthia Kimball indicated that 97 percent remained moderately to extremely interested in religion, with 76 percent regularly attending church services.

The college years are when a student sets the foundation for the rest of their lives. This fact makes the choice to attend college, and especially a Christian college, a top priority. The Pew study indicates that Americans value character even more than a college education. Why not develop both?

Maranatha is a Christian college whose mission is to prepare leaders for local church ministry. When considering the cost of college, also consider the potential impact a leader can have on the lives of others—pointing them to Christ, effectively disciplining and mentoring them, and encouraging them in their faith.  That is an investment that will pay eternal dividends.