College Pays Off Despite Recession


Those who graduated from college in 2008 often say it wasn’t the best time to be entering the working world. As graduates were searching for those first jobs, the economy was shedding them and the world was plunging into recession. If those prospects weren’t dire enough, many of those graduates were also carrying debt from student loans.

Those millennials, however unlucky, fared better than their non-college-educated counterparts, though.

A new longitudinal study from the National Center for Education Statistics – the primary collector of student data on the federal level – found these results by taking a sample of students who were high school sophomores in the 2001-02 academic year and tracking them through 2012. The nationally representative sample was measured for a variety of factors – co-habiting, marriage, unemployment, underemployment, student debt carried – but the economic breakdown in those categories between those who attained a postsecondary degree and those who didn’t is especially telling.

Even though the timing of graduating might not have been ideal, attaining a four-year degree was still a good economic move for these millennials, on average, according to the report, which attempted to control for outside factors in its economic modeling. Put simply, even in the face of a recession, going to college still paid off.

“Individuals with less education had higher unemployment rates, while those with more education had higher employment rates and were more likely to be working full-time,” the report stated.

By 2012, 78% of those who had earned a bachelor’s degree were working more than 35 hours a week. Eleven percent were working fewer than 35 hours, 5% were unemployed and 6% were out of the labor force.

Of the members of the cohort who only had high school degrees, 64% were employed 35 hours or more a week, with 12% working fewer than 35 hours – similar to the number of those with a bachelor’s degree – and 14% and 10% were unemployed and out of the labor force, respectively.

In addition to employment, earning power was also differentiated along educational lines. Those surveyed who had a bachelor’s degree earned, on average, $17 an hour. Those surveyed with a high school diploma earned, on average, $13.

The study notes that it’s still early to be drawing overly expansive conclusions from its data.

“It is important to note that this section only addresses cohort members’ early career and labor market outcomes,” it reads. “At age 25-26, many individuals are just starting their careers; some are still enrolled in undergraduate or graduate studies; and others will return to school for additional training later in their careers.”

Still, as the study notes, early labor data is often correlated with later outcomes.

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