New Study Calls for Boosting Need-Based Aid
A new study is lauding the positive impact that a college education can have on what it calls “our shared economic, social and cultural well-being as a nation,” and calls for increased funding for Pell Grants.
“While policy-makers and education leaders cite the fact that a bachelor’s degree has become worth more than $1 million in lifetime earnings, the other economic and social benefits of college are even more important, though often unrecognized,” say the authors of the new study, “Investing in America’s Future: Why Student Aid Pays Off for Society and Individuals.”
Among those benefits, the study continues, are increased tax revenues for college-educated employees who generally receive higher salaries than those without college degrees; lower unemployment rates; and less reliance on public-assistance programs.
Relying on statistics from a variety of agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics and a 2002 report from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the study notes that graduates of both two- and four-year colleges could expect to enjoy salaries of more than $41,000 in 2002, at least $12,000 above the average income level of a person with only a high-school diploma.
And the higher the level of educational attainment, the study adds, the greater the level of annual earnings, from an average $56,000 for college graduates with master’s degrees in 2002 to more than $75,000 per year for holders of doctorates.
“No one can argue that the personal economic benefits of a college education are illusory,” say the report’s authors, Dr. Jamie P. Merisotis, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, and Dr. William C. Nelsen, president of Scholarship America.
At the same time, those with higher-education degrees tend to be unemployed less often.
According to a January 2004 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobless rate for workers with less than a high-school diploma stood at 8.8 percent, compared with 4.9 percent for those with a high-school diploma, and only 2.9 percent for college graduates.
College attendance and completion can also be a measure of civic participation, the study reports, noting that in 2003, 75 percent of four-year college graduates voted, compared with less than 50 percent among those with only a high-school diploma or its equivalent.
“For today’s high-school students, a college education represents more than an opportunity for continued learning, a vehicle for personal growth and an advantage in the labor market,” the study says. “A bachelor’s degree has become the passkey to the middle class and beyond.”
But in an era when some public policy experts and many members of the Republican-controlled Congress are questioning the wisdom of increasing public funding for some student aid programs, the study proposes a doubling of the current maximum Pell Grant, a rededication at the state level to “student aid dollars on need-based grants,” and greater participation by the private sector as a “full partner in the college financing equation.”
In a statement released by Scholarship America, Merisotis said America is losing the battle to achieve equity in college access.
“The price for that failure will go far beyond denying individual opportunities to a wide range of damaging consequences to the nation’s economic stability and soundness, productivity, crime levels and social cohesion,” Merisotis said. A “greater proportion of financial aid must be awarded on the basis of need, and in the form of the most effective tool we have for college access — grant aid.”
— By Garry Boulard
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