As recently as the 1970s, the financial incentive for going to college wasn’t so clear. In 1979, among full-time workers aged 25 to 32, the typical high school graduate earned 77% of what the median college graduate made.
“But starting in the 1980s, the education premium started to grow and hasn’t stopped,” says New York Times Columnist David Brooks. “Today, money follows ideas.”
Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution analyzed data on economic mobility and found that the median American with a graduate degree is part of a family making $93,000 a year. The median person with a college degree is in a family making $75,000. The median person with a high-school degree is in a family making $42,000, and the average high school dropout is in a family making $28,000.
Based on this analysis, the financial reward for attending college is now quite substantial.
Unfortunately, access to a college degree is often dictated by economic class. Researchers Anthony Carnevale and Stephen Rose surveyed the top 146 U.S. colleges and found that only 3 percent of the students in these schools came from families in the bottom economic quartile. Seventy-four percent came from families in the top quartile.
Not only do lower income students typically have fewer resources for getting into college, there are myriad factors — social and economic — that can impede them after they’ve been accepted.
According to New York Times Columnist Ross Douthat in an article in The Atlantic, a child born into a family making $90,000 has a 50 percent chance of graduating from college by age 24. A child born into a family making $70,000 has a one-in-four chance. A child born into a family making $45,000 has a one-in-ten chance. And a child born into a family making $30,000 has a one-in-seventeen chance.
One in seventeen.
So what does this all mean for you?
First, going to college provides substantial financial rewards for most graduates — especially in the long-term. Second, if you decide that getting a college degree is right for you, your economic situation may influence your chances of making that goal a reality.
Despite the existence of structural inequalities, it’s ultimately up to you to determine your academic trajectory. So where should you begin?
Start thinking about college early on. During your freshman and sophomore years of high school, visit nearby schools to figure out what you like and what you don’t like. Decide what your dream schools are and use them as motivation. Think about which subjects you feel most engaged in and work to excel in those areas.
Find a mentor or counselor early on in high school who can set you on the right track to go to college. It’s an excellent idea to pursue scholarship opportunities. Once college applications come around, start writing your admissions essays as soon as possible and consider applying Early Decision or Early Action. Take advantage of free online resources to help you through the process.
Whatever your aspirations may be — if you want to graduate from high school, college, or even graduate school — you need to take responsibility for getting yourself where you want to be.
Brooks, David. The Social Animal. New York City: Random House, 2011. 327. Print.
Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill, Creating an Opportunity Society(Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2009), 127.
Rose, Stephen J. “3.” America’s Untapped Resource: Low-Income Students in Higher Education. By Anthony P. Carnevale. Socioeconomic Status, Race/Ethnicity, and Selective College Admissions. New York City: Century Foundation, 2004. 106. Print.
Ross Douthat, “Does Meritocracy Work?” The Atlantic, November 2005.
“The Rising Cost of Not Going to College.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project. Pew Research Center, 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.