As the second week of classes comes to a close, many University of Wisconsin students are working diligently toward the goal of graduating college and gaining a number of advantages in life, including economic advantage.
However, according to The New York Times, the financial benefits of a college degree are not as promising as they once were.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states the difference between college graduate incomes and that of high school graduates, which began slowing after large increases in the 1980s, came to a halt in the late 1990s and remains at the same level today.
The Economic Policy Institute also reported that high school graduates’ incomes are rising almost as quickly as those of college graduates’, which has caused some to question the need for higher education, according to The New York Times.
However, a college diploma still comes with a substantial payoff. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, men and women with bachelor’s degrees still earn 45 percent more than high school graduates.
UW assistant professor of economics Louise Keely said a college degree still provides a huge economic boost.
“As far as what the return [of a college education] is, if you look at the average income, the difference is quite substantial,” Keely said.
According to The New York Times, however, reports of the decline in the payoff of a college diploma have forced some economists to question whether the emphasis placed on a college education by the United States government as a guaranteed route to a higher income is justified.
University of California-Berkeley labor economist Harley Shaiken said the push for education is simply an excuse used by politicians to avoid changing policy to reduce the vast wage gap in the United States through means such as raising the minimum wage.
Keely said she sees the emphasis on the importance of education in a more positive light, stating it is good for the economy and wealthier countries generally tend to have more college graduates.
Keely added, however, not everyone should necessarily get a degree because if everyone had one, many would be forced to take jobs for which they were overqualified.
“There can be too much of a good thing,” Keely said. “There’s still a set of jobs out there that don’t require a college degree.”
UW economics professor Steven Durlauf also does not see government promotion of higher education as an excuse not to reform other policies.
“People have different perspectives on how to close the wage gap, and one appealing one is college education,” Durlauf said.
However, Durlauf added even if everyone were to earn a college degree, many problems associated with educational inequality would remain. One such problem includes universities with low academic standards. Receiving a degree from such an institution, Durlauf stated, puts people at an economic disadvantage compared to those who go to an Ivy League school.
Also, according to Durlauf, educational inequality often develops far earlier than college.
“Not everyone is equal when they graduate from high school, and a lot of inequalities start before that,” Durlauf said.