November 21, 2017
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College degrees get you dollars, but what else?

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff
Ashley L. Conti | BDN | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN | BDN
Graduates make their way to their seats during the 150th anniversary year commencement ceremony at the University of Maine in Orono, May 9, 2015.

BANGOR, Maine — A University of Maine economics professor says looking only at the effect a college degree has on your income is like “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

In a newly released report, Philip Trostle attempts to take a broader look at the implications higher education can carry for individuals, communities and society.

The Lumina Foundation, a national research and advocacy group geared toward boosting the percentage of Americans with college degrees or other higher education credentials to 60 percent by 2025, released a study Wednesday produced by Trostle through his role with the university and Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. The study is titled “It’s Not Just the Money: The Benefits of College Education to Individuals and to Society.”

Researchers usually express the value of a college education through career earnings. That connection has been thoroughly researched and written about at the national level.

Trostle cites several of these facts based on data gathered in 2012. People who attain bachelor’s degrees are 3.5 times less likely to live in poverty, and their earnings are about $32,000, or 134 percent, higher than students with just a high school diploma, for example. But there’s much more to the story, according to Trostle.

People with a college degree are 72 percent more likely to have a retirement plan, and fewer than half are still working at age 62, whereas 67 percent of people with just a high school diploma are still in the labor market after age 62.

“The total value of a college education is considerably greater than just the higher earnings,” Trostle writes. “There are also substantial benefits accruing to the rest of society.”

People with degrees were 21 percent more likely to get married and 61 percent less likely to be divorced.

Data collected over the years also indicate that people with degrees are more likely to vote, join community and civic organizations, and are five times less likely to end up in jail or prison.

“I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that engagement in life increases significantly with college attainment,” Trostle said. “Not only are college graduates usually more involved in their communities and more giving and trusting; they are more likely to be successfully married.”

The full report is available at luminafoundation.org.

“In a sense, the high financial return to investment in college education is a curse,” Trostle writes. “It deflects attention from the harder-to-quantify benefits that may be more important.”

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.


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