The unemployment rate for college graduates is half of that of non-college graduates.  College graduates earn more than double what non-college graduates earn.  And college is the gateway to graduate school and professional programs, where the disparity with earnings and employment in comparison to non-college graduates gets even wider.  But now we know there’s more to a degree than just the money you’ll make over your lifetime, as new evidence shows.

College Lecture - A Serious Man Uncertain PrincipleResearch by Philip Oreopoulos and Kjell G. Salvanes in the Journal of Economic Perspectives reveals that there are some priceless non-economic benefits to college as well.  “Schooling generates many experiences and affects many dimensions of skill that, in turn, affect central aspects of individuals’ lives,” the authors write.  “Schooling not only affects income, but also the degree to which one enjoys work, as well as one’s likelihood of being unemployed. It leads individuals to make better decisions about health, marriage, and parenting. It also improves patience, making individuals more goal-oriented and less likely to engage in risky behavior. Schooling improves trust and social interaction, and may offer substantial consumption value to some students.”

I’ve reported similar findings on marriage and parenting, as well as safer choices experienced by college graduates, on average.  But here’s a smart choice the authors may not have noted.  College students are more likely to keep their religion better than those who are of college age, but don’t attend higher education.  That doesn’t fit the media stereotype, but it does fit the data.

Now we don’t teach people how to “marry better” or how to be a good parent per se, but at our college, like many others, we teach the values of civility, diversity, service and excellence.  When those are your goals, better choices and respect and care for others tend to follow.  You also wind up making a lot of better choices in life, on average, when you pursue these goals.

Of course, you don’t have to believe my research, their research, or anyone’s research.  We live in a free country, and you can succeed without a college degree, of course.  It’s more challenging without one, but not impossible, and I don’t disparage anyone without a degree.

Heck, my dad, the youngest of 10 on the family farm, was the first person in the family history to go to college, so more likely than not, you’ll find a Tures without a college degree.  Though it probably looked like a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting, the grandfather farmer I never knew said goodbye to his youngest child headed for college, just months before his tragic death.  But though it wasn’t his path, or own life choice, and it wasn’t the farm or working the land, he believed that college would be a good choice for his boy, and in more ways than just the bottom line.  There dad met my mom, also one of the first in her family to go to college.  They gave all of their kids a chance at higher education, because they realized how precious it would be to each of us.  I left the private sector to be a professor, because I see this kind of degree value as well.

If you’re trying to make that final decision about whether to go to college at the last minute, or are thinking about making the decision for the Fall of 2019, as a traditional or non-traditional college student, here’s what I recommend.  Go to a college fair or take the tour, but do this extra step.  Sit in on some classes.  Have lunch with some students or a professor you might study under.  Get to really see what college would be like.  Chances are, you’ll be interacting with students who will confirm the findings of those economists, instead of their media caricature.

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Image: College Lecture - A Serious Man Uncertain Principle (Screenshot) from YouTube.com (fair use).
John A. Tures

John A. Tures

John A. Tures is an Associate Professor of Political Science at LaGrange College in Georgia.  He writes about international politics, elections, sports, and the War of 1812.