Earnings gap narrows between recent college and high school graduates

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Although the earnings gap between recent college graduates and high school graduates in the same age range has narrowed in recent years, college graduates still earn more in the long run, according to a report released Monday by the College Board.

The study found that from 2008 to 2011, the earnings gap between recent college male and female graduates and their peers who did not attend college decreased by 5 percent and 9 percent, respectively. However, over the course of a 40-year career, bachelor’s degree recipients earned 65 percent more than high school graduates.

On average, in 2011, those working full time with a bachelor’s degree earned $56,500, and those with only a high school diploma earned $35,400.

In 2011, males and females ages 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree earned 69 and 70 percent more, respectively, than those without one. In 2008, males earned 74 percent and females earned 79 percent more annually than those without an undergraduate degree.

Sandy Baum and Kathleen Payea, two co-authors of the report, noted that a large contributing factor to the change in the earnings gap was the recession that began in 2008. Baum called the change “a very small factor when we’re considering whether or not it’s worth it for students to attend college.”

Despite this decrease in the earnings gap between young college and high school graduates, the study states that there are long-term benefits of attending college, including increased chances of employment, social mobility and higher lifetime career income.


“Many people around their dinner tables were asking, ‘Is going to college worth the debt?’ ” Payea said. “Initially, students might have to pay back loans or may have lost income and experience while in college … but no one 10 to 20 years into their career would give up their education in retrospect.”

Additionally, the study found that postsecondary education relies more on private funding in the United States than in most other developed countries. In 2010, 36 percent of higher education funding in the United States came from public funds, while the rest came from households or other private sources. In other developed nations, such as Finland and Norway, 96 percent of funding came from public sources.

Carlos Torres, director of the Paulo Freire Institute and associate dean for global programs at UCLA, attributes the United States’ heavy dependence on private funding to the country’s history in developing education.

The United States’ tradition of contributing to universities through private donations and sustaining a highly decentralized educational policy has led to mixed methods of funding education, Torres said.

Although Baum and Payea acknowledge that higher education is expensive, especially at private institutions, Baum said that “for most people, some sort of postsecondary education is the best choice.”

Contact Chloee Weiner at [email protected].

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