OUR OPINION: College's value still outweighs costIt's absolutely true, as Herald staff writer Jennifer Johnson reported, that where UND and the North Dakota University System are concerned, "wages for many graduates have not kept up with inflation, even as student-debt loads reach record levels." Given that reality, why has enrollment stayed strong?
By: Tom Dennis, Grand Forks Herald
So, why do students keep enrolling?
It's absolutely true, as Herald staff writer Jennifer Johnson reported, that where UND and the North Dakota University System are concerned, "wages for many graduates have not kept up with inflation, even as student-debt loads reach record levels."
Given that reality, why has enrollment stayed strong? Likewise, why has enrollment around the country stayed strong, given that every student in every college is thinking about these same trends?
The answer is clear: Because students and their families are rational decision makers. And they recognize that higher education remains a vital and worthwhile investment, even despite the reality of student borrowing and the challenge of finding that first job.
The evidence for this is easy to find. It's as close the kitchen tables of a great many Herald readers, where parents who counsel their middle- and high-school students routinely note the value of post-secondary education -- exactly as the parents' own Moms and Dads pointed out to them.
The evidence also is clear after even an hour's visit to UND. Could all of the 14,000 students who are carrying their books across that vibrant campus be misinformed? Faced with the first big financial decision of their lives, have all or most of them made a many-thousands-of-dollars mistake?
Far more likely is that the students sense exactly what's in their own interests and are pursuing it as best they can. That also would explain why students keep flocking to UND and similar schools not only from throughout North Dakota but from around the world.
And those students' perceptions are based in modern reality, not ancient history or 21st century myth, concludes an August report on student loans by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
The evidence is clear: "Incomes and employment security are markedly higher for those with college degrees than for those without college degrees," the bank declares in its report, "Student Loans: Overview and Issues."
One recent study estimated that "the median lifetime earnings by those with only a high-school diploma to be just over $1.3 million, compared to nearly $2.3 million for those who have a bachelor's degree," the reserve bank's report notes.
"Even considering lost wages while completing a four-year degree and paying for the degree, traditional students typically meet this break-even point by age 33."
Then there's the fact that "bachelor's degree holders in 2008 reported a poverty level of 4 percent, compared to 12 percent for those with only a high school diploma," according to the reserve bank's report. In addition, a higher percentage of college grads have employer-provided health insurance; and "several health measures, including smoking, obesity and exercise. all favor college graduates in comparison to high school graduates."
The Federal Reserve Bank's report considers the growth in student indebtedness and highlights a number of possible causes. Then it reaches this unambiguous conclusion:
"High student loan debt and its associated payment burdens have left many wondering if the value of a college education outweighs the costs. The preponderance of the research suggests that it does. College graduates, on average, have higher incomes and greater financial stability."
Why do students keep enrolling? Because they're rational actors who know what's in their own interest -- and in 2013, a college education remains a strong bet.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald