Students or their parents writing tuition and fee checks at the beginning of the fall semester might well have new abbreviations in their minds: LSU$$$, or ULL$$ or $$SLU.
Beyond college sticker shock is the widespread concern that too many students will learn a great deal about parsing sentences or solving problems — and then will have to learn new skills, such as waiting tables or answering phones at call centers.
Two top analysts looked at this problem, surveying the job results of students who graduated from college in the past couple of years, the height of the Great Recession.
“The results surprised us,” analysts Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney reported in The Los Angeles Times. “We’ve all seen the headlines about how difficult it is for new graduates to find work in these tough economic times. But almost 90 percent of these young college graduates were employed in 2010, compared with only 64 percent of their peers who did not attend college but went straight on to look for work.”
The analysts — Greenstone is an MIT professor, Looney a fellow at the Brookings Institution — also looked at pay for the recent graduates.
“Even more astounding, the college graduates are making, on average, almost double the annual earnings of those with only a high school diploma.” And if experience is any guide, they said, “this advantage is likely to stick with them over a lifetime of work.”
So college is a good investment in human capital, and it compares favorably to the stock market, they said. Put four years of tuition in fees into stocks, and then earn the average of high-school graduates over one’s lifetime. The investment return of a college education comes to a 15.2 percent gain, more than double what one could make in long-term investments in the market.
College is surely more expensive, in particular here in Louisiana as schools were buffeted by cutbacks in state aid in the past three years. Students, or their parents, are paying more. Unfortunately, because Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature have prioritized tax cuts over education, the tuition increases fill budget gaps rather than invest in higher-quality instruction and research.
Nevertheless, don’t feel bad about writing that tuition check.
“We live in difficult economic times filled with challenging financial trade-offs,” Greenstone and Looney said. “There is no guarantee with regard to any investment, but the evidence on education is clear: The more education you obtain, the better off your job prospects and future earnings.”