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Don't let the economy fool you -- college is still critical

Colleague Don Lee wrote a piece in Tuesday's L.A. Times about a new Pew Research Center study, "The Rising Cost of Not Going to College," that finds getting a college education is still the best path to a financially successful life, the current economy notwithstanding.

Of course, no one — especially poll takers, who measure the present and the past — can predict the future. But the Pew findings are pretty compelling, even as they obscure a more significant point: The benefits of a higher education aren't limited to a paycheck. The more educated we become, the better we can engage with, and derive pleasure from, the world around us. And in an era in which ignorance is touted as a political attribute, and an environment in which fellow citizens believe the Earth is 6,000 years old, we need a more educated citizenry, not less.

But the financial benefits are clear too, even if relatively few employers are hiring these days. The easy conclusion: Get the degree, even if it costs as much as a small house. From the Pew report:

"For those who question the value of college in this era of soaring student debt and high unemployment, the attitudes and experiences of today’s young adults — members of the so-called millennial generation — provide a compelling answer. On virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment — from personal earnings to job satisfaction to the share employed full time — young college graduates are outperforming their peers with less education. And when today’s young adults are compared with previous generations, the disparity in economic outcomes between college graduates and those with a high school diploma or less formal schooling has never been greater in the modern era."

The gap is stark. According to the findings, millennial college graduates between the ages of 25 and 32 with full-time jobs earn about $17,500 more a year than their peers whose education ended with high school. Those with degrees also were more likely to hold full-time jobs; a higher percentage of those without college degrees lived in poverty.

What the study didn't address is how to pay for that education, in which the costs are building an increasingly higher hurdle for those from low- and middle-income families. But thats's another topic, with more complicated answers than a survey can provide. 

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Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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