A college education is still the most reliable pathway to the middle class

There are multiple avenues to well-paying jobs, but a college degree is the most dependable path to economic mobility and stability, Anthony P. Carnevale, founder and director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce (CEW), and Nicole Smith, research professor and chief economist at CEW, write in a joint article for The Hechinger Report.

Is a college degree worth it?

Concerns about college costs and student debt have left Americans doubtful about the value of higher education. Only half (49%) of Americans believe college is worth the cost, while two-thirds (66%) say higher education fails to meet students’ needs, according to a recent survey from Public Agenda.

Related: Georgetown report: College, work experience crucial to securing a good job >

Apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and the creation of infrastructure jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, all have made higher-paying jobs more accessible to workers without college credentials. This fall, a public service marketing campaign launched by nearly 50 organizations and companies, including IBM, LinkedIn, and Google, advocated for the placement of qualified workers without college credentials in jobs that typically require bachelor’s degrees, The New York Times reports.

College education as ‘the gold standard for workers’

Although training programs can lead to well-paying jobs, those programs need more accountability measures to ensure they lead to higher wages, Carnevale and Smith say. Additionally, CEW research finds that growth infrastructure jobs won’t last into the next decade.

Georgetown researchers project that by 2031, 72% of all U.S. jobs will go to workers with some education beyond high school, as will 85% of jobs paying at least $38,000 per year for workers ages 25 to 44, at least $49,000 for workers ages 45 to 64, and $72,000 at the median nationwide. A CEW report has also found that over a lifetime, workers with bachelor’s degrees typically earn $1.2 million more than workers who have only a high school diploma. Workers with some college experience or an associate degree earn $300,000 and $400,000 more, respectively, than workers with a high school education.

Related: What’s really putting a damper on college enrollment? Survey takes a closer look. >

“We must not forget that the bachelor’s degree is still the gold standard for workers in today’s economy,” they write. “The bachelor’s degree is not the only pathway to the middle class, but it is the most reliable route.”

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